Starting well is essential for a successful online learning experience, and it doesn’t happen automatically. A skilled facilitator spends the time necessary to achieve social, cognitive, and teaching presence from the outset (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) and continues to actively support learners throughout the course according to their individual needs and learning styles.
Having a comprehensive understanding of available technology enables the facilitator to select the best technology for a particular application and to effectively coach learners who have not mastered the technology. Without technological clarity, a facilitator may overload herself and the learners with unnecessary tasks or technology that interferes with learning (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).
It is essential to clearly communicate expectations to learners. Most adult learners are goal-oriented, and mastery of skills boosts their confidence and improves their self-esteem (Malamed, 2013). Learners need to understand expectations so they can take steps to meet them and feel satisfied with their online learning experience (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).
When setting up an online learning experience, facilitators should provide an opportunity for learners to share biographical information. This fosters openness and community, and also provides a frame of reference for the facilitator when interacting with learners in discussion forums. When a facilitator uses student names and references relevant biographical information, this personalizes the learning experience and promotes learner engagement (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).
Conversely, facilitators need to be aware that some learners are reluctant to share personal information for fear of being stereotyped (e.g., by race, gender, ethnicity, geography, relationship status, etc. (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Personal information should be invited, not required. As well, when designing ice breakers and discussion prompts, facilitators should allow learners to choose from activities with varying degrees of openness.
Great beginnings lead to great middles and great endings!
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer) (n.d.) Launching the Online Learning Experience [DVD] Baltimore: MD.
Malamed, C. (2013). http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/characteristics-of-adult-learners