Asynchronous e-facilitation: watching or listening?

Are you running reports and checking course data to verify whether your learners have done the work in your e-course or online workshop? What exactly are you checking and why? How much do you let your learners know that you are ‘watching’?

On any learning management system there are heaps of opportunities to watch your learners and many (not all, mind you) learners have a good grasp of what you might be able to see.

One of the most important aspects of an engaging adult learning environment is that learners need to feel safe (more on this in ‘6 core principles, virtually!’). When people feel watched, they don’t feel safe. If participants feel they are being watched they might not feel comfortable to fully contribute.

How do we make sure people still feel safe?

The way you communicate about your tracking power is essential here. I think we need to be careful with how this message is shared, and when. Learners need to feel supported, not tracked. They need to feel listened to, not watched. ‘Watching’ and ‘listening’ are two very different actions.

I differentiate between two types of learner actions and adjust my communication about my tracking power accordingly: (1) the ‘visible’ actions and (2) the ‘invisible’ actions.

The visible actions are the ones that are clear to anyone in the group, including peers. This includes whether someone is regularly logging in and their contributions to the collaborative tasks.

The invisible actions are the ones that only the facilitator can track but none of the other people in the group can – these include whether a learner has accessed a resource.

I suggest it’s fine to be upfront with communicating directly about visible actions. Get in touch with participants who haven’t logged in for a while and find out if they are OK (e.g. “I noticed you haven’t been able to join us for X many days…”). It is also fine to communicate with people about any issues they might have around their contributions (e.g. “Your team is waiting for you. Is there anything that is preventing you from contributing? Please let me know if I can help.”) Logging in and contributing are clear ‘visible’ actions. Commenting on visible actions to reach out to learners and trying to help is not going to make them feel unsafe, quite the contrary.

However, I recommend we stay away from sharing that we also noticed that people haven’t opened any of the content resources or haven’t done any other actions that are more ‘invisible’ – or considered ‘invisible’ (because of course we – e-facilitators – have access to this data).


  • Because to ensure people feel safe in your learning environment, you want to be considered a ‘listener’ not a ‘watcher’.
  • Because whether people have or haven’t accessed the supporting resources is useless information. How do you know they have paid attention? How do you know they have read or watched it in full? If not, how then does this differentiate them from the ones who haven’t accessed at all? You will only get some evidence that people ‘got’ it when they are able to apply new concepts, so focus on analysing how they solve problems instead (and your LMS reports can’t do that for you). Tracking information is useless, because accessing information isn’t learning.

So don’t contact an adult learner to say ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t accessed the learning resources yet…’ That’s not listening, that’s tracking. If you’re worried, make it a general message instead. I find it more efficient to tackle this in a general post and in a positive way, for example: “If you haven’t read this week’s resources yet, now is a good time, because these will really help you solve this week’s task, particularly […].” People who haven’t read the resources yet will ‘get’ it and we haven’t invaded their ‘space’.

2015 GOLD LearnX Impact Award for Best Online Facilitator!
Not all e-learning design has to be responsive


2 Comments. Leave new

  • Jennifer Fackrell
    November 10, 2020 5:28 pm

    I agree with this approach. One has to be careful to be a ‘listener’ and not a ‘watcher’. We can easily put students off by our attitudes and ‘watching’ is definitely very off putting. Students can be very sensitive.

  • Good emphasis on support rather than surveillance


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