Facilitating Online Learning | Online Courses

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Online course facilitation is very important for anyone who would like to support online learning. Learner’s engagement and chances to successful complete the online course is significantly higher with facilitating online learning. Facilitating learning in an online environment is quite different from facilitating face-to-face. It has some unique characteristics and limitations.

Online facilitation is the technique of enabling and promoting learning in an online environment by means of encouraging interaction with and between students and supporting interactive online learning activities.

Online facilitation techniques, EdTech Team
C ourse facilitators are responsible for running an online course. In some cases, facilitators are identical with course authors, and have therefore designed the course and created much of its content and learning activities. In other cases, course facilitators may take over and deliver a course that they did not create themselves.

Online facilitators need a similar skillset compared to facilitators in residential settings. However, online facilitation needs also to pay attention to differences in text-based and (a)synchronous interactions in forums and discussion groups.

The role of course facilitators

What to bring with you. As course facilitators you should:

  • have an excellent understanding of the intended learning outcomes and the course elements. – You should know and understand the learning outcomes and be able to relate how each course element is meant to contribute to those outcomes.
  • know how to facilitate throughout the course. – As a course facilitator you should be familiar with each learning activity, practical task, and/or interactive activities. This includes knowing when they occur and what kind of facilitation they will require. Online facilitation also depends on your knowledge of the Learning Management System (LMS) and how to use a broad variety of internal and external digital tools. Finally, you should be able to take advantage of various facilitation techniques.
  • collaborate with the facilitation team. – As a team of course facilitators, you need to develop a work schedule for the course and establish a clear and shared picture of the course (expected learning outcomes, content, learning activities, tools, course schedule and deadlines). Finally, you need a clear division of facilitation roles within the team.

As course facilitators you will have several roles:

  • a pedagogical role , which is all about facilitating the learning process,
  • a social role, which focusses on facilitating the community building process,
  • a managerial role, which is about communicating the course organisation and course flow and
  • a technical role, meaning the support for learners on how to navigate withing the course and resolve technical issues.

Source: Online facilitation techniques by EdTech Team

Working with policies and protocols

The equivalent for an agreement with participants, seminar rules or a contract in your residential training are policies and protocols.  In an online course, it’s usually the institution or the course facilitators that introduce them.

Communication guidelines / netiquette

Communication guidelines may include recommendations and rules for email communication and posting and comments in forum discussions. Communication guidelines serve as a netiquette, an appropriate and acceptable way of behaviour online. They might include notes on:

  • appropriate use of language and tone,
  • expectations for grammar, punctuation, etc.,
  • respect for other learners,
  • use of sarcasm, humor, and/or the posting of jokes and
  • issues of privacy and information sharing outside of the course.

Examples for communication guidelines or netiquette are provided by many Universities, for example: Lake Superior College or EdTech.

Honor code / academic honesty

Many institutions introduce specific rules that cover various violations, like copyright, accessing other user-accounts or submitting the work from other people to receive the course certificate, etc. A so called honor code or academic honesty code mark a red-line that cannot be crossed.

Encouraging Self-directed Learning Online

Online Learning offers a lot of freedom. The downside of this flexibility is it’s convenience: online learners are tempted to procrastinate or fail to engage with other learners along the learning journey, which often leads that learners drop out.

Online learning requires a certain skillset of the learner: Self-directed Learning or Learning to Learn Online. As a course facilitator you need to encourage and support the development of self-directed learning competence of your learners. Self-direction – the willingness and capability to direct one’s own learning – is a key competence for learners in order to accomplish their aims and finish successfully an online course.

Find out more how to encourage self-directed learning here: How to make the best of your course | Encouraging Self-directed Learning Online

Online Facilitation Checklist

For online facilitation there are a couple of things to consider:


  • Who can learners ask course-related questions?
  • Who will respond to learners questions, and in what time-frame?
  • How much interaction with learners and among learners is expected overall? How are you communicating this expectations?
  • [If the course involves discussion forums] Who will facilitate and monitor group discussions? How actively will you participate in discussions (e.g. with own posts, reply to learner posts, check-ins, etc.)?
  • When will you be available for direct communication with learners (e.g. during office hours, live chats, etc.)?
  • What communication guidance, discussion roles and/or netiquette will you set up? How are you monitoring them?

Learning progress and outcomes

  • What learning activities will be assessed and awarded with badges?
  • What criteria does learners need to fulfill to successfully complete the course?
  • How will you assess the course completion by the learners?

Communication and interaction (aka policies and protocols)

  • What communication guidelines are you going to implement? How do you monitor to keep them?
  • What processes should be followed in the event that learners are facing accessibility problems or cannot follow the course?
  • What protocols will be used in case of violations of copyright and academic honesty?

Technical support

  • Who can learners ask for technical support?
  • What LMS tools and external digital tools tools will be used in the course?
  • What training or information do facilitators need in order to use them?
  • What training or information do learners need in order to use them?

Online Facilitation – Check your readiness!

Assess Online Facilitation – Check your readiness with the “Assessing Online Facilitation” instrument (AOF). The checklist (in word and pdf-format) helps you to evaluate and identify your facilitation strengths and areas for improvement.

7 tips for facilitating online

  1. Know your stuff! – Get familiarised with the content, learning activities and resources. Allocate time on a trial run on each activity in the course.
  2. Build a relationship with learners! – Use a warm and personal language, introduce yourself with a video or photo profile. Send meaningful communication to your learners on a regular basis (not too less and not too often!), for example a short summary of key points covered, signpost to upcoming activities, something off-topic, etc.
  3. Build a sense of community! – Encourage learners to connect with one another, share and discuss about the content of the course, engage in teamwork.
  4. Be clear in what you expect from your learners! – Provide a clear schedule for activity deadlines. Give as much notice as possible. Assign an estimated time required for each activity.
  5. Be a role model for community interaction! – Be an example in your communication with participants, in forum discussions. Provide communication guidelines and/or agree on a common netiquette. Intervene when the rule of netiquette is broken, or the discussion is veering off in the wrong direction, and help move the discussion back on track.
  6. Be responsive and reliable! – Respond to learner’s communication within a consistent and reasonable time frame so that they are aware of your presence and active participation.
  7. Stimulate discussions, encourage reflection! – Relate to student experiences and ask thought provoking questions. Bring closure to each topic and give space for reflection of one’s learning progress before moving on to the next one. Monitor and reflect the learning progress, participation and/or completion of activities. Follow up as required.

Source: inspired by Online facilitation techniques, EdTech Team

Plan, create and publish online courses

Are you a course co-ordinator or course author/facilitator? Do you have the support from a course provider? (National Agencies of Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps, SALTO Resource Centers or Organisations, KA2 Project)

“HOP! Plan, create and publish your first online course” is a self-paced course is for course authors and facilitators, who would like to develop their first online course on the HOP platform. It introduces the basics of course design and leads you through three steps: planning, creating and publishing.

Check out the course description on this blog or on the HOP Online Learning platform.

Read more…

Online Facilitation

An Overview of Online Facilitation by Nancy White | An inspiring article on online facilitation and community building with a lot of resources and links covering a huge variety of aspects of online facilitation

Defining your facilitator role in your online course by University of Waterloo | Covering various aspects of online facilitating

Online facilitation techniques, EdTech Team | A short introduction on roles, techniques, strategies and tips for online facilitation


Establishing Your Course Netiquette by Cal State LA “Center for Effective Teaching and Learning” via calstatela.edu | Links to various samples of online communication guidelines

The What, Why and How of Protocols by EL Education

Learning to Learn Online

How to make the best of your course | Encouraging Self-directed Learning Online