Week 3 (Jan 26 – Feb 25) ~ Role of Online Facilitator

The primary role of an online facilitator is designing and guiding the learning that occurs through an online environment. A big part of the job involves managing the communications and collaborations that occur among the course participants, including those between instructor and students, students and students, and interactions with participants from outside the course such as invited guests. The specifics of the role of the facilitator will depend on the philosophy of learning being used, including the degree of freedom students are given in managing their own learning, the online tools that are chosen, and the split between asynchronous and synchronous activities. The facilitator’s role is also affected greatly by the amount of previous experience that students have in online communication. The facilitator’s role is critical, and it doesn’t really matter whether the online environment is more structured as in an LMS, or more loosely-coupled using a variety of tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networks.

Online Teaching

In most online courses, the facilitator also has the role of being the scholar or subject matter expert. There may also be some instructional design responsibilities. Leigh Blackall (2007) points out in his blog posting To Facilitate or to Teach that he finds himself conflicted at times in the role of facilitator because he is also the teacher and subject expert and fears that his biases might impact his neutrality when it comes to facilitating.

“Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment.”

When you begin teaching online, you may be presented with anything from a very structured course with all the pieces in place, to a framework from which to build on, to as little as a course title, description and some learning outcomes—that’s it. One thing for sure is that being an online teacher provides great possibilities for creating a flexible learning environment, the ability to revise continually, and the opportunity to integrate tools, content and people that you find through your network. You might consider having your students help build the course through their research, reflections and contributions, if your philosophy of online learning goes there.


Blackall, L.  (2007, October 12). To facilitate or to teach. Message posted to http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/to-facilitate-or-to-teach/

Anderson, T. (2008, May). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., chap. 4). Retrieved March 10, 2010 from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/14_Anderson_2008-Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning.pdf

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (2003). Effective online facilitation.
Web access via The Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org/web/20060109235012/http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/guides/facilitation.html
and in local PDF copy

Watwood, B., Nugent, J., & Deihl, W. (May 2009). Building from content to community: [Re]Thinking the transition to online teaching and learning. Retrieved March 10, 2010 from http://www.vcu.edu/cte/pdfs/OnlineTeachingWhitePaper.pdf

2 Responses to Week 3 (Jan 26 – Feb 25) ~ Role of Online Facilitator

  1. Tashmyra says:

    I found the chapter in the Anderson book to be most interesting. I have been an on-line learner for a total of 4 semesters taking 3 courses each semester so I could relate to the different technical tools from a student perspective- and it allowed me to imagine also the teacher perspective. I have experienced a variety of approaches- from a strictly hands-off, asynchronous, do-it-at-your-own-pace, no interaction with other students- to timed asynchronous strong teacher presence with high expectations and constant discussion board format (this course is my first experience with synchronous discussions). I found that seeing the overview of all the possibilities a good way to start thinking about my next step- like an ‘in’ to the other side of the mirror.

  2. Michelle Harrison says:

    Hi Tashmyra,

    It sounds like you have had an amazing variety of online experiences – I really like your description of it as “the other side of the mirror”. As a current online learner, I also appreciate what that perspective brings to my design and teaching online. Each of the models you describe has their own merits – and I appreciate the flexibility of “do at your own pace”, but also really love the interaction that I get to have with other learners in paced courses. As I am now writing my thesis as part of my doctoral program, I am missing the cohort and the ability to discuss ideas and perspectives – as well as the deadlines! As you say there are so many possibilities – looking forward to seeing your ideas for how you can incorporate this in to your outdoor learning environments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *