Monday 4 April 2022

Facilitation? Moderation? A Model for Clarifying Educator Presence in Online Learning Discussions

Last week we ran a seminar (a Moderation Masterclass) for new moderators on our recently launched FutureLearn course, Digital Skills Awareness for Starting Higher Education in which we tackled head-on the thorny issue of Moderation v Facilitation -- what do these terms mean? How do they differ? In preparation for the session, I started work on a little diagram for helping to establish distinctions between the terms, which are often used interchangeably. 

I started working in this area way back in the early 2000s, when online discussions, if not new (discussion boards had been around since the mid-90s), were certainly hot technologies in the burgeoning world of online learning. A lot of research and influential ideas came out around that time about building online communities and engaging participant interaction from the likes of Gilly Salmon, Nancy White and Etienne Wenger (amongst others). I'm not going to do a survey of literature here, but you are invited to go look. While online learning has changed a lot (especially the technologies and dependence on video and video conferencing), discussion forums themselves have not (please see my blog post about that). Nor has the way we use them.

For the purposes of our seminar, my diagram needed to be a quick way to conceptualise the key educator roles (that is, the delivery and support sides of a learning activity) and the way these relate to the learner's engagement with the activity and, specifically, the educator. 

The primary elements of the model are:

  • Educator role: Monitor, Moderator, Facilitator, Tutor
  • Role category: continuum from Admin to Teaching
  • Level of learner independence versus dependence on educator (apart from interaction with other learners)
  • Level of educator "presence" within the activity (visibility as well as active intervention) 
Courses, and even individual activities, will often overlap or complicate these elements, but the overall model is useful for developing an understanding of what is required in a specific instance and -- vitally -- for getting a team of educators all on the same page.  

Monitoring and Tutoring, at either end of the spectrum, are relatively clear. Monitoring involves virtually no educator presence. It is simply oversight to keep an eye on proceedings and report problems while the learners engage with the material and each other, independent of educator intervention. Tutoring involves strong educator presence carefully leading the dependent learners through the discussion as an expert in the subject.

Moderating and Facilitating are the two terms most often confused and ill-defined, especially in terms of online discussions. In my model, Moderation is further up the Admin end of the scale than Facilitation, which has more of a teaching function. 

Moderation requires no subject knowledge. It's about keeping a discussion ticking along smoothly and, unlike monitoring, allows for occasional visible interventions, especially to counter incorrect or potentially enflaming contributions from learners. In addition, a moderator can respond to learners directly to point to sources of assistance or answer a pressing question that the other learners cannot answer. Moderation usually does not include interventions about the ideas or topics in the course. It takes a judgement call to avoid setting up expectations that the discussion will be actively facilitated while also making sure learners are not neglected. 

Facilitation picks up where Moderation leaves off, involving the kinds of skills that encourage learners to respond to each other and extend their thinking and also the ability to summarise key points and present the learning developed in the discussion back to the learners. Maybe surprisingly, Facilitators do not have to be experts in the subject; they need to be experts in facilitation. Facilitation requires a judgement call to avoid dominating discussions by presenting as subject experts while also making sure the learners are sufficiently engaged with the topic and with each other.

Which type of role, category, level of independence and presence is appropriate for any discussion will depend on a range of contexts, such as the purpose for the discussion, the course it sits within, the subject matter, the type of course, the group size, learner expectations, staff availability, budget, platform, technical and other factors. Above all, the originating design for the course needs to take into consideration these constraints to create and present a holistic learning experience with well-planned activities, whether simply monitored, moderated, facilitated or fully led by a tutor.

Do you have thoughts and experience with these roles? We'd love to hear your views.

No comments:

Post a Comment