The facilitator plays a vital role in developing and maintaining an online program that is effective, smooth, and that will support the realization of the planned learning outcomes. Faculty delivering courses online must be more than transmitters of knowledge; they must become facilitators of learning. Some highly seasoned instructors from the traditional on-ground environment will easily adapt to the online model, while others may find the transition challenging at first. The facilitator in the online environment must possess a unique set of tools to perform effectively. Reflect on your teaching style to see where you might find room for improvement.
Some of the basic criteria for a person to be successful as an online facilitator are:
1. Credentials: Life Experiences and Academic
Facilitators in the online arena are generally considered to be ‘clinical’. That is, they have a broad base of life experiences in addition to academic credentials.
The online model is an applied learning model and it requires facilitators that know what the real world is about. Experience is a good supplemental teacher and builds a level of understanding with the issues. Online facilitators are required to be active and experienced in real world applications of their subject matter and to have a solid grasp of the issues being taught. Current knowledge of practices within the subject matter being taught is expected to be a key part in providing a usable education.
2. Openness, Concern, Flexibility, and Sincerity
The personality of the facilitator should demonstrate the characteristics of openness, concern, flexibility, and sincerity.
An online instructor must be able to compensate for the lack of physical presence in the virtual classroom by creating a supportive environment where all students feel comfortable participating and especially where students know that their instructor is accessible. Failure to do this can alienate the class both from each other and from the instructor and would make a very weak learning environment. Online students are as busy, or busier than anyone else in today’s hurried world. The students are the customers and are expecting to be treated as such. Being sensitive, open and flexible is not an option, it is a requirement.
3. Comfortable Communicating in Writing
The face-to-face contact traditionally available in a classroom setting is gone in the online learning process. The ability to verbally communicate is replaced with a keyboard. The communication is intense and demanding. The faculty person must feel good about communicating in writing because that is a base element in the process.
4. View Online, Facilitated Learning as Equal
The person should be able to accept the value of facilitated learning as equal to the traditional model.
If a teacher feels the only way a true learning process can take place is through the traditional means of educating in a classroom, the person is generally not right for the online paradigm. Both an accelerated learning model and the online process depend on facilitative techniques for their success. You cannot duplicate the on-ground classroom in the online paradigm. The person leading a successful online class will be a proponent of facilitative learning.
5. Values Critical Thinking in the Learning Process
The person should be able to subscribe to the value of introducing critical thinking into the learning process.
This is a given in the online learning process. The process is designed to facilitate the easy assimilation of theory into concept and application. Students are expecting to receive knowledge and abilities that are usable today. What is learned today can be taken to the work place today. This requires the ability to think critically. There are a plethora of options available to the properly trained facilitator for accomplishing this.
6. Appropriate Credentials
Appropriate credentials are a combination of many factors including academic preparation, a current and substantial experience base in the areas being taught, and the desire to be part of the process of imparting knowledge. The faculty member then needs to be trained and/or experienced in the particular learning model to be used.
7. Experienced and Well-Trained in Online Learning
Knowledge of the use of the tools used in facilitating online programs, the appropriate methods used in communicating with online students, the ability to control the flow of work in the virtual classroom, and how to prepare a course for presentation in the online environment are just a few of the expectations placed on a facilitator. The faculty member must feel comfortable with these methods and the technologies needed to implement them, and this can be gained through exposure to training in online instruction.
8. What Should Participants of the Online Learning Experience Expect from the Facilitator?
- The students should expect that the facilitator would create a learning environment that utilizes life, work, and educational experiences as key elements in the learning process in order to make it meaningful.
- The facilitator should be able to present the curriculum in a manner that allows the student to easily translate theories into applications.
- The students should be given the proper tools to transcribe theory into practice.
- Every student should be given every opportunity to improve until the learning experience comes to an end.
- Reasonable accommodations for the students’ needs and desires should be made.
- The facilitator should solicit feedback from the students and listen throughout the entire process.
- The facilitator should be concerned about the students’ success.
- The facilitator should keep students aware of where they stand with respect to the course evaluation process on a regular basis (i.e. weekly updates of what has been turned in and what is missing).
- The facilitator should give the student timely and quality feedback on student contributions to discussion, homework, and quizzes.
- The student should expect little or no lecturing. Lecturing yields marginal results in the online environment.
- The student should not be subjected to tests requiring memorization. Case analysis would be more appropriate.
- The student should be treated politely and with respect.
- The facilitator should be online everyday (at a minimum 5 of 7 days).