Effective virtual facilitation

As virtual classes rapidly become de rigueur, the need for an effective virtual facilitation framework accelerates.

I propose the 5-stage model of e-moderation developed by world-renowned networked learning guru, Gilly Salmon.

While Salmon’s model primarily supports asynchronous networked learning, I contend that it supports synchronous networked learning just as well.

The Model

Salmon’s 5-stage model of e-moderation is based on, umm, 5 stages:

Salmon's 5-stage model of e-moderation

All 5 stages contribute to the learning process.

Here’s my take on each one, based on my reading of E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching & Learning Online and of course my own two-cent’s worth…

Stage 1: Access & motivation

This stage is about getting your remote participants up and running.

Inform your participants very early that the virtual class will be happening, when and where. Book the time out in their calendar, and let them know that they will be receiving an email to provide them with the access details. Also let them know that they won’t need any special equipment, just a phone (or headset) and an internet connection.

Provide them with any documents they will need beforehand.

Encourage the participants to enter the virtual class 30 minutes early so they can iron out any technical glitches. It’s a good idea to provide them with the contact details of someone for troubleshooting, and to explain if it all goes belly up, it’s not a disaster: just let it go and you can work out something later. (You might consider running a trial session, but that might be overkill – afterall, virtual platforms are fairly straightforward these days.)

Click Me!, courtesy of wagg66, stock.xchng.

On the motivation side, it’s a good idea to explain to the participants up front why they should attend the class. As previously noted, adult learners are problem-oriented, so you need to explain how spending this hour or so will help them in their job. You should also explain why they should do it in virtual format (eg so they don’t waste time traveling into the office).

I’d also suggest encouraging the participants to text chat as soon as they enter the virtual space, to introduce themselves and get to know each other. Not only does this initiate socialisation (see Stage 2), but it also checks that they know how to use the technology. Of course, the facilitator should greet everyone as they enter.

Stage 2: Online socialisation

Smiley, courtesy of ctr, stock.xchng.Socialising would have already gotten started on an ad hoc basis as the participants entered the virtual space and waited for official kickoff.

I’d suggest following this up with some sort of ice breaker – with a lot of people, you might want to keep it reined in. For example, it could be a simple question like Have you ever met anyone famous?

Following this, the facilitator should emphasise the collaborative nature of the session, and reinforce how it’s all about sharing ideas & experiences and learning from each other. Ask them what they personally want to achieve from the session. Cultivate a warm, friendly environment.

Stage 3: Information exchange

This is where the “serious” class begins. The facilitator should define the learning outcomes of the session (and tailor them according to the audience’s expectations), then refer to the information that was previously provided.

If there’s more information to disseminate (in instructivist format), then this is where it’s done.

Real-life examples should be used wherever possible.

Stage 4: Knowledge construction

Digger, courtesy of mzacha, stock.xchng.This is arguably the most important stage for learning.

Everyone’s at the same place at the same time, the ice is broken and they’re familiar with the information that’s been provided to them. Now it’s time to figure out what it all means.

The facilitator should actively invite the participants to discuss the key concepts, raise ideas and ask questions. It’s very important to ask them to share their experiences, and to suggest how they might apply the new learnings to their own role.

At this point, the participants are actually learning from each other. The facilitator guides, prompts, prods, questions, challenges and clarifies.

Close up of The Thinker, courtesy of marttj under Creative Commons, Flickr.Stage 5: Development

This stage is all about reflection, and it can be done after the actual session. A post-session worksheet might prove useful for this purpose.

The facilitator should also raise awareness of other resources that the participants can continue to use after the session. Perhaps other courses, websites, discussion forums, podcasts, blogs etc.

Evolving e-learning in the workplace

Using Salmon’s 5-stage model of e-moderation as a framework, SMEs can transform from sage on the stage to guide on the side.

And isn’t that what adult learning is all about?

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6 Comments on “Effective virtual facilitation”

  1. Deb Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for sharing this model ! Your post reminded me of Jean Clendinning’s work with learning pathways for e-learning professionals. So it’s not so much how to facilitate the synchronous sessions but the skills required for e-learning professionals to do this. Something we also need to consider !

    You can find more info about it here http://tinyurl.com/yh3zlhr

    Cheers,
    Deb

  2. ryan2point0 Says:

    Thanks Deb. I’m not familiar with these pathways, so I’ll read about them with great interest. Cheers!

  3. mollybob Says:

    I’m very fond of Gilly Salmon and just wrote an assignment using this model as the “recommended resource”, and your post came up as a recommended read, so here I am.

    I think something else that’s important and often skipped is the socialisation stage – for participants to share with each other (the information exchange stage), they must have some concept of who the others are so they can trust their contributions – if you can work it back into the technology stage a bit that can help. e.g. while you’re teaching them to use the technology get them to discuss something about themselves as the task.

    Anyway, good to see someone else is a fan of Gilly Salmon’s work :)

  4. Gilly Salmon Says:

    Hi Guys just to let you know there’s a bit more about synchronous learning in the third edition of e-moderating
    Gilly

  5. Ryan Tracey Says:

    That’s great news Gilly! I’ve added your new edition to my collection of recommended books: http://astore.amazon.com/elearinthecor-20


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