You have an online course and wonder whether you need to facilitate it. And you wonder about the best way to do that and how much of your time needs to be invested.
In this blog post, I discuss the following 4 important items about online facilitation:
I am going to drop the bomb here – learning without instructor facilitation or dynamic discussions is considered ineffective in an online course. There needs to be guided interaction from the instructor (or trained team) and between students to make a course. Otherwise, it’s a one-way transmission of information, like a book.
As such, “an online discussion strategy is imperative for student learning [as] distance learning courses experience high attrition [drop out] rates resulting from factors such as students feeling isolated, unmotivated, overwhelmed or unchallenged” (Du et al, 2005.)
To add, “learning is a social activity that is strengthened when instruction is carefully facilitated by an instructor” whose roles and responsibilities include attempting to involve all learners, carefully designing written communication, providing feedback, motivating learners to stay on track, and helping them make meaningful connection to the content (Young, 2006.)
As an example, through my E-Course Check-Up service I helped Racheal Cook devise ways to enhance individual and group facilitation in her online course, Conscious Business Design. She was finding enrolment was increasing in her rich program and in turn, she was being spread too thin as the main facilitator. Yet, Racheal was very clear she wanted to continue providing personal support and service to her students.
I proposed the following: To have themed groups work together to create small learning communities; assign coaches to each themed groups to create focus and contextualization; facilitate deep discussions within and across groups via a forum; post personal recorded messages from Racheal addressing current student questions, etc.
The results showed that Racheal’s students loved the attention and ‘presence’ of the teaching staff and the peer connections making them feel supported, guided and interacting with human beings.
I can’t count the number of research papers (hundreds) I have read that report over and over student facilitation and communication are imperative for online courses. Whereas, large canned/pre-recorded e-courses are missing important elements that enhance learning – in fact, they detract from it.
However, not all online courses need rigorous facilitation and in turn, could drain the instructor, students and resources. I outline 3 levels of course intensities with suggestions for facilitation approaches.
Below are suggested best practices for online facilitation from Stephen Brookfield, Malcolm Knowles and Joseph Levine – all highly regarded adult and online learning researchers. Try to apply these to your course.
Discussions, interacting and facilitating take time. It may seem no one is showing up, participation is low or you’re spending too many hours interacting online. Consider the following points.
Online learners who take a course by choice (i.e. informal or continuous learning) don’t have the same pressure to complete a course as with a college student. With your learners, sometimes life gets in the way, they burn out, lose interest or plan to pick it up later. That’s normal.
I use a 30-40-30 rule when describing the typical participation of online learners. Expecting this type of interaction will ease your mind about student involvement and perhaps, find different ways to reach them.
Probable hours of student participation per week: 2
First, the less you are facilitating in a course the more content you have to create to replace you. Adversely, the more you are involved (i.e. posting comments, providing live calls, giving individual or group feedback) the less you need to construct online. You can see the shift in facilitator involvement with the intensity of a course, whereas a light course should have complete instructions, lessons and learning resources as the facilitator might be absent.
Second, and listen very carefully … you will burn out if you attempt to answer every post or comment by your students (assuming there are 25+ students.) To avoid this, try the following:
Expected hours of instructor participation per week:
There are two terms to how people interact and communicate online: Asynchronously or synchronously.
Best practices: Try to use a mix of asynch and synch communication throughout your course; however, live communication is not really necessary for light intensity courses.
Consider the following types of communication/interaction to enhance a course. Ensure to consider the amount of time you and your students will be required to invest and select the right combo.
So should you facilitate your course or send out a self-directed version?
I suggest ‘you’ show up in some capacity as your learners actually purchased the course because of your lovely self and they really want human contact.