Introduction. The role of the facilitator
Learning on your own is difficult, without anyone to support you, answer your questions or share ideas with you. Some support can come from your peer learners, however the presence of a facilitator is crucial for online learning. Their role differs from the one a teacher has in the traditional classroom. The role of an expert resulting from a better knowledge of the topic is only one of many roles an online facilitator has. A facilitator is not only supposed to transfer his or her knowledge, but rather create space with activities and resources which will help participants to develop competences. Adoption of competences is particularly important in teaching vocational subjects in which participants have to obtain practical skills, operational knowledge and become competent in a field of work.
Gilly Salmon, a practitioner of e-learning (more about her work on the website All Things in Moderation), identifies five main areas of competence of an e-moderator. They were all covered in the Questionnaire for the moderator’s self-evaluation in Module 1.
- Understanding online process. An awareness that learning through the internet requires a slightly different approach than the one used in the traditional classroom. The ability to adapt the traditional form of teaching to another context. Knowledge of how to use the specific advantages of an online environment and deal with its constraints.
- Technical skills, understood as familiarity with the tools and, in particular, the ability to locate those functionalities that can be useful for e-learning. In e-learning you can use many applications and services which were not created for educational purposes. However, you need to discover their potential.
- Online communication. An awareness about time-delayed communication and its difference from face-to-face. The ability to communicate naturally and effectively.
- Domain-specific competences. Knowledge where to find the best materials for the learning objective defined on the course and activity level.
- Personal competences. A positive attitude and motivation to work and develop as an e-moderator. There is no point in getting involved in a task to which we are not committed.
Alternatively, four main roles can be identified:
- The pedagogical role: supporting the learning process and not by “transferring” knowledge into the participants’ heads. Specific tasks are:
- providing guidelines,
- providing feedback,
- providing advice,
- facilitating interactions among the learners and course materials,
- monitoring discussions, initiating or moderating them.
- The technical role. To be able to effectively participate in e-learning courses the facilitator should have basic skills in using a computer, internet and in working in a virtual learning environment. Especially during the initial stages of a course, facilitator provides technical support, helps with logging in and guiding around the learning environment.
- The organisational role. E-learning stresses independent work and a learner’s initiative, but it doesn’t mean that they should be left on their own. The facilitator should help the participants develop the skills necessary for independent organisation of work and conducting their work process, as well as support the development of a learning environment, such as group formation, getting to know each other, etc. The instructor’s tasks consist of:
- monitoring activities of the participants,
- personally contacting those who were inactive for too long,
- helping those who need to catch up with the material,
- setting deadlines and enforcing them,
- organising work on the platform (bringing order to the discussion forums, solving logistical problems, etc.).
- The social role. Learning is usually a social activity, as during our course. It is based on communication. This is why one of the most important functions of the course instructor is socialisation, making actual strangers communicate efficiently online and form a dynamic group of individuals who are peer learning. A safe and friendly learning environment will make participants share their reflections, experiences and knowledge with others.
In vocational training, facilitative methods also include learning through conversation, through real-world problem-solving, through enquiry, expert demonstration and lecturing.
Process of adopting a certain skill and becoming competent requires the kind of trial and error common in real-world problem solving.
Facilitative vocational teaching, among other things, includes:
- Placing a strong emphasis on the workplace to provide a meaningful context for learning where problems are framed by the context of the workplace.
- Encouraging “hands on” and interactive approaches to learning activities to allow learners to apply and interact equally with the thinking and performing aspects of learning.
- Giving learners the opportunity to collaborate and negotiate in determining their learning and assessment processes.
- Understanding learners as “co-producers” of new knowledge and skills.
- Recognising that the prior and life experiences of learners are valuable foundations for constructing new knowledge and skill sets (although they can also impose limitations). (Smith, P., Blake, D., 2005)
In addition to the course designer, it is the task of a facilitator of a vocational e-learning course to make sure these conditions are ensured in the online environment as well.