5 Practical Ways to Enhance the Online Learning Experience with Facilitation

This is Part 2 in our series on Facilitation. If you haven’t read Part 1, The Benefits of Facilitation for an Active Learning Community, check it out here.

The online learning experience doesn’t have to be an isolating endeavour.

The beauty of having an online course is that it allows people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and experiences to come together, share their ideas and gather new perspectives.

The challenge is making sure all students can have their unique voices heard, are able to engage with the content and can consider the differing perspectives to build a richer, more layered understanding.

In this case, having the support and guidance of an inclusive and enthusiastic facilitator can make all the difference!

Here are five practical ways a facilitator can enhance the learning experience in an online course.

1. Encourage meaningful discussions

Learning works best when students can interact with others to discuss ideas, exchange their understanding and solve problems.

Facilitators can promote discussion by recognising learning opportunities and asking questions that invite a range of possible answers and encourage students’ curiosity.

For example, instead of asking “Did the main character experience a transformation throughout the play?” (closed-ended question), you could ask “How did the main character experience transformation throughout the play?” (open-ended question).

2. Model ideal practice

Facilitators can show students what it means to have an active and inquisitive mind by taking part in the learning activities with them and making their thought processes explicit.

Instead of providing answers, facilitators ask guiding questions to help students clarify any misconceptions, encourage them to engage in higher- order thinking and seek further understanding.

“What do the choices of the main character reveal about his/her changing identity?” is an example of a guiding question as it directs students to use their critical thinking skills (analysis and reasoning) to solve an identified problem (what is the effect of the main character’s changing identity on his/her decision making ability?”)

3. Promote learner autonomy

In facilitation, it’s not about what you know, it’s about supporting students through the process of learning discovery: helping them to form ideas and connect new concepts with existing ones.

Facilitators gradually provide more space and opportunities for students to share their own ideas, discuss amongst their peers and make their own conclusions. Over time, students will learn how to support each other and manage their own learning outcomes.

4. Maintain student engagement

Student disengagement usually occurs when a student does not find the material relevant or feel they are not supported in the learning process.

Facilitators can prevent this by highlighting ways for students to connect the material with their own world, tailoring their questioning to meet students’ needs and encouraging conversation that is open to anyone without the fear of getting it right or wrong.

For example, facilitators can help students connect abstract concepts (force and tension in physics) to real-life problem-solving (building a bridge) to consolidate their understanding. This could be phrased as, “using what you know about force and tension, build a bridge with household items and see how much weight it can withstand without breaking.”

5. Promote a positive and inclusive environment

There’s a big difference between ‘Welcome to the course’ vs. ‘Hi everyone, we’re so glad to have you join us in this course.’

The positive language used by a friendly and supportive facilitator will help students feel more welcomed and valued in the course. They know they are engaging with real people, not just a computer screen, and promote rapport-building within the learning community.

So, by nurturing a sense of community, modelling good learning practices, and empowering students to take control of their own learning, a facilitator can positively shape the online learning experience for students, to shift from having to learn to wanting to learn!

This is Part 2 in our series on Facilitation. Click here to read Part 1, The Benefits of Facilitation for an Active Learning Community or here to read Part 3, How to Facilitate an Online Course and Community on OpenLearning.