Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What does a facilitator of an online learning trajectory do?

I'm helping different people to facilitate online trajectories. It's always funny to see that people who are experienced facilitators face-to-face are so scared for an online process. And then suddenly they see they can use the same basic facilitation skills online. In the beginning, most are disappointed by the number of responses to messages. Somehow online, participation seems lower because the people who are reading with attention are not visible. Face-to-face facilitators are used to read the attention on the faces of participants, but online readership is invisible (though you can use statistics ofcourse, but that's more indirect).

I've prepared a handout for an online facilitator in Rwanda and thought I could share part of it in a blogpost. I did Nancy White's course a few year's ago, and have developed my own style since. First two definitions:

Facilitation – “Group facilitation is a process in which a person who is acceptable to all members of the group intervenes to help a group in the way it communicates, identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, in order to increase the groups effectiveness”- adapted from Schwarz

Online Facilitator - “Online Facilitation is the set of activities used to assist a group in achieving its desired activities together. This may be done by an individual or it may be the collective practices of a group to facilitate itself. The practice emerges from the classic skills of offline facilitation, but adds the elements of the technical practices using online interaction software, along with the complicating factors of distributed interaction where we cannot rely on accustomed offline communication elements of body language, tone and the affects of being in the same space at the same time. Source: http://www.fullcirc.com/community/communityfacilitation.htm.

Then I'd like to share the table of tasks of the online facilitator in four categories; technical tasks, social networking and relationships management, support online learning and communication and monitor progress. I've used the definition of facilitator skills from the Facilitating Online Course Leader's guide and blended it with my own experiences. Somehow something seems to be missing... the list still makes it seem so easy. So any ideas are welcome!

The online facilitator has various tasks, ranging from technical to social. The tasks can be grouped as follows:

Technical tasks

Take care of online environments, organizing online spaces and update information, check links and make it attractive and easy to use. Solve technical problems or forward them, answer technical questions or make sure they get answered. Help people find ways to use or navigate the online tools that work for them. Initiate improvements.

Social networking and relations management

Give people a tip if something is posted that may be of interest to them or to which they may want to respond. Stimulate people to contact each other directly by mail, phone or face-to-face. Find out who are not participating/engaged and why.

Support online learning and communication

Initiate discussion topics. Monitor communication and communication patterns. Summarize and send updates. Upload documents and make sure they are accessible. Make short interviews and share them if relevant. Create a social and welcoming environment by modelling constructive communication. Talk to participants to find people who have something interesting to share and stimulate them to do so. Participate in discussions from your own perspective and knowledge base. Find people with different perspectives to contribute to conversations. Resolve conflicts. Facilitate or chair teleconferences or webinars if relevant.

Monitor progress

Monitor progress by logging in frequently and reading or scanning most (all, depending on the pace) messages. Use statistics. Organise feedback from members and improve the online interaction on the basis of their suggestions.

1 comment:

EJ said...

The key to a good online interaction, I think, is letting the facilitator's personality through the online course. There are helpful corporate learning solutions out there with features to allow lecturers to build rapport with the learners even without physical interaction.