Some Thoughts on Online Course Facilitation: Part 2

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about online facilitation and how facilitators must continually adapt their instructional strategies to satisfy evolving learner and institutional demands (see my post here). Having studied online facilitation best practices and Garrison et al.’s (2000) Community of Inquiry framework over recent weeks, I would like to revisit my original post to see if any of my views on online facilitation have changed. 

First, I would like to examine three statements I previously made about online facilitation, which, at the time, I deemed essential to the online facilitation process. 

Point #1

“To deliver a positive online learning experience, instructors must possess the technical competencies to assist learners with commonly experienced computing issues such as browser incompatibilities, software setup, submission file formatting, and much more” (Carpenter, 2021).

I would still rank this point as an essential part of online facilitation for a couple of reasons. First, online learners will always run into technical issues, whether it’s to do with their specific operating system or browser setup, a server issue, or a third-party application that needs an update. Technical troubleshooting is just part of the online learning experience. Second, when a course is even mildly complex, there will always be a couple of learners who struggle to navigate the course at first. For instance, some learners might struggle to find a submission page or locate assignment instructions. Part of my recent studies on online facilitation situated me in a group where we had to design and facilitate a one-week learning module. At the onset of the learning week, some of our learners struggled to locate information that was very accessible. The point is, even with a sound navigational system intact, there is still usually somebody needing help with it. Considering educational technology is constantly advancing, and new tools are continually being deployed, I think the technical competencies of online facilitators will become even more critical in the coming years. 

Point #2

“Imperative to learner engagement is a facilitator who can promote compelling interactivity throughout an online course. The decision to encourage interactivity between a learner-learner, learner-content, or learner-teacher dyad can vary depending on the course material, the capabilities of the facilitator, the learning requirements, and the institutional teaching and learning standards” (Carpenter, 2021). 

According to the COI framework, activities that promote learner-learner, learner-facilitator, and learner-content interactions increase the likelihood that deep and meaningful learning will occur (Garrison et al., 2000). Of course, the benefits of an interactive course design go much deeper than learning outcomes, but I think the COI framework quickly validates my original point on interactivity. Many online learners love variety. I have witnessed this as an online facilitator, both in the professional setting and as a learner; however, learners must continually be engaged with all aspects of the course design to benefit from the learning opportunity. In addition to facilitating a one-week learning module as part of my recent studies, I was also a participant for other facilitation teams. Unfortunately, some of the teams lacked variety in learning activities, and accordingly, I lost interest as the week went on. Do all learners like change? No! But, if we are to accommodate a diverse classroom, we need to provide a variety of activities, options if you will, so learners can take some ownership of their learning journey (student agency). 

Point #3

“Irrespective of the chosen course delivery method (e.g., synchronous vs. asynchronous delivery), it is essential to provide online learners with clear and direct instructions on navigating a course and completing the learning objectives. Therefore, clear and concise communication is an important aspect of online course facilitation” (Carpenter, 2021). 

If I could redo my original post, this is the one point I would change. Rather than being the third point, I would reposition it as the number one point. Why? There will always be one or two learners who misunderstand even the most clearly written instructions. Whether it be because of a busy work schedule, health issue, or some other learning condition, it is incredibly easy to overlook instructional material, even when such material is written correctly; therefore, providing clear and concise instructions is essential to delivering a positive learning experience. One piece that I could add to this would be to offer assignment instructions in various formats to better cater to diverse learner needs. For instance, instead of just giving text-based instructions, the facilitator could also prepare a video explanation and repeat key terms or ideas throughout their instructions. Whatever the approach, it has to be clear and in the learner’s face to avoid confusion. 

In my original article, I wrote two fundamental questions that I had about online facilitation. I will not rewrite them here, so if you care to see them, please go here. Instead, I present two new questions based on my reflections above. 

  1. When will AI technology become prevalent enough to support learners with technical troubleshooting and navigational or instructional questions? 
  2. Will online instructor resources, such as time to prepare adequate course designs, continue to be stretched thin for the foreseeable future? 

I originally wrote a brief metaphor where the chameleon symbolizes the constant state of flux of the online education world, and I stand by this metaphor now. It seems technologies, facilitators, learners, upper-level institutional stakeholders, and the like all embody some form of bias that dictates what should and shouldn’t be included in an online course design and facilitation strategy. Moreover, what is thought of as best practices will undoubtedly change with the next flavour of the month. Luckily, these flavours are mostly supported by research, such as the recommendations of the COI framework. Accordingly, online facilitators must continue to be aware and adapt to any advancements in online pedagogical strategies, learning technologies, etc., to satisfy the status quo and meet the needs of current and future online learners.  

In sum, many of my views about online facilitation have remained the same, even after investigating the topic using the COI framework. If anything, I now have more data to validate my original thoughts. I do not feel it beneficial to write three new points and one new metaphor about online facilitation simply because my original work is still relevant to me and does not warrant a change. I will always frame new questions about the online facilitation craft because old questions and their answers become dated within a blink of an eye. For this reason, perhaps I should revisit this post after a few months to see if my perspective changes.

 

References

Carpenter, J. (2021). Some thoughts on online course facilitation [Blog]. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0163/some-thoughts-on-online-course-facilitation/

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. https://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Garrison_Anderson_Archer_Critical_Inquiry_model.pdf

 

One thought on “Some Thoughts on Online Course Facilitation: Part 2

  1. A really good review of your original 3-2-1 post Jonathan. And I do hope you return back to this post in a few years when the complete program is under your belt. I am a big fan of revisiting and revising based on new context and changing circumstances (the chameleon is apt).

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