A facilitator is an experienced person who supports learners during open online courses. A facilitator will encourage conversation, ensuring that all learners are able to contribute and communicate in a positive and collaborative way. Although open online courses can attract a large number of learners, many don’t engage with other learners in discussion areas and forums. Facilitators are tasked with promoting social learning opportunities, engaging with the learners to pose open questions, threading together discussions and moving the discussion forward to develop and deepen the learners’ learning and social learning skills. Facilitators, depending on the course, may be supported by affiliated guides and/or guides.

“E-facilitation is the process of encouraging interaction with and between students, supporting learning activities and helping make the use of technology 'easier' for the people we are working with, in order to foster greater engagement and learning” - Downing, Pittawayand Osborne, 2014.

The emergence of e-learning comes at a time when education and training are undergoing important transformations. The teacher-centered model that has dominated instruction for centuries is slowly giving way to a learner-centered model with instructors in the roles of facilitators or "guides on the side." E-learning is no exception. But e-learning's use doesn't preclude facilitators' responsibilities for structuring learning experiences. The effectiveness and success of e-learning programs are dependent on e-facilitators' roles in delivering and managing instruction. E-facilitators help to create ownership and trust, as well as make online communication more efficient, results-oriented and participatory.  

1. e-Facilitator Role: Ed Hootstein models specified that an e-learning facilitator has four main and defined roles: - instructor, social director, program manager, and technical assistant.

    • Instructor: consultant, guide, and resource provider: An e-learning facilitator's role as instructor is consistent with seminal adult learning research in which instructors guide self-directed learning in problem-centered environments. E-learning facilitators don't hold all the answers: They offer their own unique insights as they help learners acquire knowledge and develop skills.
    • Social director: creator of collaborative environments: The second role that has an e-facilitator is social director, fostering collaborative learning.  As facilitators promote interpersonal relationships and help learners work together, they guide a developing sense of community within and between small groups. Facilitators stimulate learner participation and interaction by using small group discussions, collaborative projects, case studies, didactic learning partnership exchanges, and one-on-one exchanges. In addition, they monitor and participate in discussion forums or conferences to identify misconceptions or guide more fruitful directions.

    • Program manager: director of the agenda: The third role that an e-learning facilitator is that of manager, responsible for organizational, procedural, and administrative duties. For example, many facilitators develop study guides for courses to help ease learners' anxiety and address both content and technical concerns. These guides can provide introductory information, describe learning activities and resource materials, and provide additional information about course components or procedures. Facilitators should be available to help learners manage their time and avoid information overload--many learners may not be accustomed to the increased independence and vast array of available information that e-learning provides.In addition, Berge suggests that e-learning facilitators demonstrate leadership, guiding interactions proactively by defining expected learner behaviors through guidelines, protocols, and netiquette.

    • Technical assistant: model of proficiency:Facilitators as technical assistants help learners become comfortable with systems and software and prepare learners to resolve any technical difficulties that may occur. Effective facilitators must feel comfortable using media and communication tools. Ideally, they use a variety of media (text, graphics, audio, and video) to present material. Such variety may accommodate individual learning styles and provide approaches for both visual and auditory learners.
2. e-Facilitator Skills: The four circles in the graph contain key skills or process responsibilities an e-facilitator typically has. The bullets next to the circles point to some important elements that might guide a person in the role of an e-facilitator. The size of the circles give a rough indication of time requirements because even though all responsibilities are important and complementary, some take more time to achieve than others. For example, while trust and ownership creation require punctual efforts (as all other tasks), they cannot be completed within a very short time period. Contrarily, it does not take a long time period or process to manage expectations and provide support to online dialogues -which are the elements in the small circles.  

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