Facilitation: the Anti-Lecture

Raise your hand if you have memories of falling asleep in your college level World History 101 class. The sensation of rousing from a peaceful slumber atop your mini-desk/lecture seat because you thought you heard the person next to you snore is not something many of us are likely to soon forget. By wearing your comfy sweats and bringing your spiral-bound notebook to your post-lunch lecture you were virtually guaranteed a good snooze (unless your professor was in the habit of throwing Tootsie Rolls from the podium to whoever could keep at least one eye open). But the lecture, in and of itself, is not a bad idea. It’s just its location, duration, and situation that create its bad reputation. It’s time for the good old lecture to be redesigned. Are you ready? It’s called (drum roll, please): THE DISCUSSION BOARD.

Fortunately, technological advancements and teachers willing to take a chance are swiftly replacing the old-fashioned formula for imparting knowledge to us professor wannabes. If you’re planning on a career in online teaching, you need to prepare for a different atmosphere. Most of us grew up in the lecture-era and it may be difficult to let go of that image that we have ingrained in our minds. But imagine a world where students are given a topic and allowed to discuss it amongst themselves with quality leader involvement. No more snoozefests – only the passion that can emerge from a well-facilitated topic and the endless variety of ideas and resources that we can garner from one another. Does it sound too good to be true?

Dream no more, my fellow sleepers, and say goodbye to The Lecturer. The Facilitator is here.

The Facilitator Facilitates Cooperation and Effective Work The best of online classrooms intelligently employ a discussion board to foster a sense of community and to become a vehicle for sharing and learning. The role of the facilitator is to enable groups of people to work cooperatively and effectively. Together, the facilitator and his or her groups combine ideas to achieve goals and objectives related to the course topics. With education constantly moving towards online-orientation, more of us will be finding ourselves in the position of running discussion boards and leading Internet-based classes. While it’s only natural that we would gravitate toward the lecture method in our own teachings (after all, that’s what most of us grew up with), it is imperative that we gain skills in group facilitation if we are to become marketable in this era of non-traditional learning. The following are some ideas to assist you in easing the transition to “Facilitator-Leaderâ€.

The Facilitator is a Leader

The facilitator is usually the course instructor. When you find yourself in the role of the facilitator, it is important to remember some vital points. Let your groups get to know you, and get to know your groups. Remember – your job is to make it easier for the group to accomplish its goals and this is made infinitely easier by establishing a good base knowledge of just with whom you are working.

The Facilitator Maintains a Non-authoritarian Teaching Style

When working with adults, it is usually best to avoid the authoritative role. Your role should be one of assistance and guidance, not control. No one (especially a grad student) likes to be ruled over with an iron fist. That’s why most of us have veered from the traditional face-to-face classroom in the first place.

The Facilitator is Neutral

Avoid taking sides on issues. A facilitator remains neutral and helps the group to focus its energies on specific tasks. This permits the group to make decisions and promotes cooperation among its members. If conflict does arise, use the situation to remind group members that civility is essential within the discussion board community.

The Facilitator Builds Trust

Bend over backwards to be fair and civil. Keep the rules as few as possible and keep them simple and based on ordinary human courtesy. Make the discussion board material relevant to the subject at hand. Be friendly – sometimes you can influence others because they like you and/or you have a good rapport with them.

The Facilitator Facilitates Communication

Be as explicit as possible in your communication. Provide prompt feedback. Be willing to spend time building relationships with your students rather than always being task-oriented. Initiate conversation rather than waiting for someone else to start. Don’t automatically assume that everyone understands you. Remember that good facilitators never provide all the answers!

The Facilitator Fosters Social Interaction

Use introductions. Encouraging participants to build a sense of community can go a long way toward fostering the atmosphere of civility. Be wary of using humor. When using online communication, it’s difficult to construe intent and tone from on-screen text unless you know the students extremely well. Your humor may not come across as you might have intended! Handle misguided communications appropriately. Return inappropriate digressions to the original topic. Model and praise the discussion board behavior for which you are looking. Say “Thank you†to students who are doing a good job. Assume good intent. When we assume the best of everyone, it’s easier to function within a group. Practice and encourage the art of active listening and reading. Learn to summarize what you have heard from your students. Good facilitators have the ability to use the more outgoing group members to get the discussion rolling and then shut them down and make room for the quiet ones.

The Facilitator Asks Questions

Learn how to ask a question. Good facilitators have the ability to pace the discussion boards and change the level of discussion when needed through varying questioning techniques. Pose questions for the group to consider as a whole and individually. Ask leading questions. Ask “open ended†questions rather than “closed†questions. Here’s an example: Closed question: Do you like being a discussion board facilitator? Open question: What strategies might be effective when dealing with an aggressive student in the discussion board?

In Closing…

Taking the time to learn important facilitative skills will ultimately be time well spent. Enjoy the process and both you and your students will reap the rewards!

Kaarin Record


Schuman, S. (n.d.) “Process expertise for group effectiveness†in Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation (http://www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/resources/FacilitatorCompetencies.html). Retrieved April 21, 2004.

Berge, Z. (1995). “The role of the online facilitator/instructor†in Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field (http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/teach_online.html). Retrieved April 21, 2004.