Q. In an online environment, how do I facilitate/teach effectively? Are there different strategies for synchronous or asynchronous facilitation online?


Updated: Jun 22, 2020

As a facilitator your goal is to support learners by creating and maintaining an environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate, ask questions, venture answers, take in and understand other points of view, and share their own.  In online education, you will sometimes see the phrase “building an online community” describing these same aspects of teaching. “Building an online community” involves welcoming learners, aiding learners to navigate the course and the online tools you will be using, fostering a safe and supportive learning environment, supporting adult learning, maintaining an active and visible presence, encouraging participation and reflection and closing the community at the end of the course. 

In an online environment the goals of facilitation are the same, but the tools and methods might be a little different. 

Both Synchronous and Asynchronous:

  • “Digital orientation”: depending on who your students are, they might not be familiar with the tools they are being asked to use for your course. Take some time in the first week to introduce them to what they will need:  What portals, software, websites, apps, etc. will they be expected to use? When? How? How can they know they are using them appropriately?
  • Orientation: students will still need much of the same information they would need for an in-person class: who do they go to with questions or concerns?  What are your expectations when a student knows they will have to miss a meeting or deadline? Etc.
  • Make a clear statement about your communication plan – just like in a face-to-face class, students need to know when they can reach you, how much time to give you to reply to communications, when to expect feedback etc.
  • Don’t limit yourself to using only your school’s Learning Management System (unless there are policies that dictate that you do so).  There are lots of free, ready-built tools available that you can use to encourage more active engagement with your course.
  • Check in on students you are not “seeing” in class (students who have not been posting in discussion boards or attending video classes, etc.) – help them solve any technical issues if you can, provide understanding and support for any life-complications that might be interfering in class participation and encourage any active engagement feasible given existing limitations.
  • Ask open ended questions and encourage peer-to-peer explanations, but step in when it looks like more clarity is needed.
  • Model and encourage appropriate participation, discussion, critical thinking, and reflection


Asynchronous specifically:

  • Include communication/engagement policies in the syllabus; what are your expectations for how often students will log in to participate on discussion boards or post assignments, or other active aspects of your class?  What kinds of assessments or evaluations will be tied to these kinds of participation?
  • Your communication plan is even more vital in an asynchronous class: some students may be doing coursework at all hours of the day, night or weekend, and it may not occur to them that you are not also available 24/7.  Be extra clear about when and how students should expect feedback, replies, etc.

Synchronous specifically:

  • Consider making yourself available for “live” chats and discussions with individual learners or small groups. These kinds of interactions could help fill the function of office hours and similar in-person assistance.
  • Include communication/engagement policies in the syllabus; what are your expectations for how often students will log in to participate on discussion boards or small group discussions, or other active aspects of your class?  How can people check in and participate in any regularly scheduled live, online classes? What kinds of assessment or evaluation will be tied to these kinds of participation?


For More Information: 

What is a facilitator? Essential Skills for Effective Facilitation – The Training Clinic
Brief article describing of facilitation compared to training with tips and steps for facilitating.

Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes – IDEA Paper #64, December 2016
This paper suggests a three-pronged approach for conceptualizing active learning in the online asynchronous class. 

Facilitating Learning Online – Synchronous – ScoPE – BCcampus Learning + Teaching
Access the materials for the 2019, Oct2017 and Feb2017 versions of an online course about facilitating learning online.

Path 4: Facilitating Online Learning – Centre for Teaching and Learning – Western U
A brief 5 minute video addressing approaches to communicating in online courses as well as links to resources about welcoming students, managing your online presence and more.

Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals – OER – Royal Roads University
Access the materials for an online course about the fundamentals of facilitating learning online including: building community, diversity, responsive facilitation, collaboration, reflective practice etc.

Online Facilitation Skills and Strategies – from: Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals – OER – Royal Roads University
Point-form PDF list of skills and strategies to use when facilitating online learning.

Facilitating – Resources for Teaching and Learning at UHN – Library and Information Services and Educational Development UHN
Resources for learning about facilitating, including links, books, and more

Answered By: Melanie Anderson
Last Updated: Jun 22, 2020 Views: 62

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