Today’s students have grown up in the digital generation. They’re used to watching videos, searching for answers online and digitally sampling bits of information from a variety of sources. Nearly every student has a smartphone in their pocket, which allows them to access information on demand. It’s no surprise then, that online facilitators have their work cut out for them when it comes to supporting the education of these digital natives.
Technology-facilitated learning helps students and faculty in a multitude of ways. It helps facilitate instructor communication and feedback, allows students to more easily collaborate and communicate with peers and provides opportunities for practice of learned skills. But it has also fundamentally changed the way learners learn and the way instructors teach. Effective facilitation methods for online teaching are now a necessary part of educating the next generation.
How to Facilitate Online Learning
Online instruction is fundamentally different from in-class instruction. While technology-enabled online instruction offers learners anywhere, anytime access and the ability to self-pace, the lack of face-to-face contact with instructors can be isolating. Just as teachers have a set of classroom facilitation techniques for in-person learning, the same ideas and preparation should be applied to online learning. But it’s not as simple as taking strategies used in a physical classroom and moving them to a remote environment.
Challenges for Online Facilitators
Facilitating online learning effectively requires a different approach. Instructors must take into consideration a student’s capacity to learn remotely (including what tools they have access to), their schedules and individual learning styles. On top of this, course content cannot simply be copied and pasted via text or turned into one long recorded video and embedded in a learning management system (LMS).
One of the biggest challenges with online learning is the difficulty of building a strong community. When you have a group of learners who have never met each other and who likely never will, the opportunities for organic interactions and connections are low. When facilitating online learning, think ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’. Because facilitators may not be able to physically see how a student is interacting with the course materials, putting activities that encourage collaboration are preferable ones that mean a student gets no interaction with others at all. Online instructors/facilitators are encouraged to actively seek out ways to create dialogue, foster interactions and build virtual learning communities.
Here are 10 ways instructors and teachers can create a better connection with their learners online:
10 Online Facilitation Best Practices:
1. Encourage active participation
- Maintain a relaxed, engaging and informative tone.
- Encourage learners to ask questions, share experiences and collaborate.
- Show no judgement and make sure no one ever feels ridiculed.
- Use humor where appropriate.
2. Don’t lecture…rather, question
- The primary goal of an online facilitator is to turn lectures into interactive discussions.
- Engage learners through pertinent questions that encourage individuals to thoughtfully explore the subject matter.
- Use active questioning, which also helps instructors better know their learners, their preferences and their motivation, which in turn helps in the personalization of eLearning materials.
3. Online facilitators can encourage group collaboration
- Learners can become facilitators. Ask them to share experiences with others to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.
- Try dividing the class into smaller groups to tackle problems presented through real-world scenarios.
- Groups don’t always have to be large and activities don’t always have to take up a lot of time. Holding a breakout room on a video call for two or three students for five minutes where they can discuss their thoughts on a topic is a great way to break up a lecture and facilitate online interaction among learners.
4. Make the information you’re providing “bite-sized”
- Gradually introduce information to learners through smaller, more digestible eLearning courses.
- Consider inserting a combination of text, video, audio and graphic material throughout your eLearning course to make materials more engaging.
- Use polls, quizzes and gated content to make sure learners have fully absorbed information before moving on.
5. Tie the eLearning course into real-life scenarios or situations
- Tie subject matter into real-life examples or experiences.
- Provide learners with opportunities to assess how the information applies directly to their own lives or experiences.
6. Set clear goals, ground rules, and expectations
- Set rules and goals at the beginning, so learners are clear on the desired outcome.
- Set expectations with learners to keep everyone on track and aligned with the learning experience.
7. Keep the conversation on the subject at hand
- It is the online facilitator’s job to bring the discussion, questions and answers back to the subject at hand, so learners don’t lose their way and the learning value is retained.
8. Talk less and listen more
- Good facilitators talk less and listen more. You are there not only to offer your wisdom and experience, but to also help learners become fully engaged.
- Use questioning to guide discussions that will allow a learner’s understanding to unfold.
- Encourage debate (within the context of the subject matter).
9. Act as a guide, rather than as an instructor
- Online facilitators work to make sure learners are actively learning the subject matter as well as using critical thinking to apply it within their own lives.
- Online facilitation works best when instructors or facilitators are their to support students, rather than talk at them.
10. Ask for feedback and make changes accordingly
- Be open to constructive feedback from learners, and use feedback to improve your methods of online instruction and the course materials.