It’s been 15 years since I read Gilly Salmon’s ‘E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online’ which, back then, was the book to get you started as an e-facilitator. The book is firmly grounded in the university sector and still relevant in that context.
In other work/learning environments, we’ve had to adapt and come up with our own approaches – because an e-facilitator isn’t an e-tutor. Our online learning events are designed differently and this shapes the e-facilitation methods used.
In the world of face-to-face learning, these differences are generally more accepted. No-one will question that the typical university lecture/tutorial is profoundly different to a participatory workshop. Yet, in the online learning context there is a tendency to view all asynchronous e-learning as equal and ignore how different sectors apply this approach differently.
A good e-facilitator is first and foremost a good facilitator (there are things face-to-face facilitators can learn from e-facilitators though). The impact of people’s learning/teaching/training philosophy on the way they facilitate online groups is huge. But there is a lot we can learn too.
So how do we become better asynchronous e-facilitators?
- Give meaningful feedback
When participants in your learning event receive meaningful feedback, they will likely be extra motivated and engaged. Giving good feedback is one of the most important roles of the e-facilitator.
People put a lot of effort into their learning. Even the simple act of turning up might have been an endeavour. A good e-facilitator shows consideration for these efforts.
Too many e-facilitators only offer a standardised piece of feedback or a message along the lines of “well done, now move on” with just a few points to consider. I find this disrespectful.
Someone once said to me that it’s fine because learners are in it for themselves, they learn from the process and from their peers. That’s right only to a certain extent, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the e-facilitator can take shortcuts. If we don’t work hard, how can we expect that our workshop participants will?
If you’re not doing this already, spend some time learning how to weave feedback. Weaving feedback is a great e-facilitation technique because it connects participants’ contributions to the workshop’s themes. When done well, it’s an important motivational tool.
- Make sure e-course/workshop design supports interaction
The way an online workshop or course is designed influences greatly how interactive it can be. It also impacts on how much your e-facilitation skills can make a difference.
If the e-course uses a traditional ‘content + discussion forum + quiz’ learning design, then there is very little you can do to increase interaction. Discussion forums are tricky if their only function is to ‘discuss’. Discussion isn’t really a learning task and people get bored of it very quickly – some people won’t even bother to join.
It’s not always possible for e-facilitators to influence the design, but if you can and the course is one of those traditional ones, convince the course owner that it needs a re-design. Have a look through older posts in this blog for ideas on how to develop collaborative problem-based learning. Once the course has been re-designed, you will be able to show off your great e-facilitation skills.
- Increase your presence but don’t interrupt
The trick is to find the middle ground between being omnipresent (and too stifling) and being invisible (appearing uninterested). The issue is not so much the number of times you post, but rather what conversations you react to and where you step back.
Good e-course/workshop design helps a lot here too as it will guide your e-facilitation strategies. For example, we design team tasks in such a way that the role of the e-facilitator is clear. They monitor, encourage and step in to offer clarifications, yet the bulk of the work is always the woven feedback to each team.
Consider presence even when you reply to queries from individual participants in forums. If you address an issue behind the scenes (by a personal message or email) because you think it’s rather personal, make sure you don’t leave any query unanswered in the forums.
- Develop an inspiring online voice
We all have different online voices and e-facilitation styles. Successful e-facilitators tend to have a similar ‘tone’: warm, humble, respectful, kind… they genuinely care for the participants and you can really read this between the lines.
They all write like they speak or they ‘write for the ear’. But don’t confuse this with messy writing. Structure and clarity is very important.
In asynchronous communication, it’s sometimes easy to forget that a conversation is a two-way street. Good listening (reading) skills are essential to developing an inspiring online voice and ultimately being a great e-facilitator.
Listening isn’t the same as watching. Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we need to watch every single move by our learners. When people feel watched, they don’t feel safe and will not feel comfortable to fully participate.