Participation in ONL is mainly focused on group work with problem-based learning (PBL) as a pedagogical method. Each PBL group has a facilitator and a co-facilitator to guide and support the participants. The facilitator is responsible for her/his PBL group and is involved more in the course planning and administration. The co-facilitator has successfully completed an earlier iteration of ONL and is able to offer practical help and encouragement to learners based on experience.
The facilitator’s role is not to be a teacher but to help participants to help themselves. Facilitators are part of the course team and are involved in the planning and administration of the course with weekly meetings during the course. The facilitator keeps a record of participants’ activity and monitors progress, following up as necessary. The facilitator is responsible for the PBL group and is expected to make sure that all participants feel included in the group and that the work proceeds smoothly.
Before the course, the facilitator should meet her/his co-facilitator and agree on how to work together. Guidelines are available to help this. The most important part of the facilitator’s role is to create a community spirit in your group:
- encourage and inspire
- make sure everyone is on board and contact participants who seem passive or unsure
- give prompt feedback and support
- don’t just answer a question. Promote discussion by asking for clarification, asking a follow-up question, providing further inspiration, asking others what they think
- don’t overload them with information
- encourage group members to support each other (react to posts, discuss)
The most important phase of the course is the start up. The group needs to get together as soon as possible, at least one meeting is needed for the first week (if few participants can attend it could be good to offer an extra meeting).
First meetings with group
- Discuss and establish ground-rules/code of conduct for groupwork (fair distribution of responsibility, communication, netiquette etc).
- Discuss course structure and ensure that everyone understands that the success of the course lies in the participant’s’ hands. Everyone has to take charge of their own learning!
- Lead the first 1-2 meetings, suggest tools and methods to get started, but then hand over responsibility to the group members. Draw up a plan of who is responsible for coordinating each topic (e.g. arranging weekly synchronous meetings, leading discussion, collecting and summarising the work for the topic).
As the course progresses there is a risk that the energy levels fall. The facilitator and co-facilitator should consider trying new methods of communication with the group (e.g. a fun new tool, a short video recorded with your mobile etc) and encouraging participants to use a variety of media.
Being a co-facilitator is an opportunity for participants of previous iterations of ONL to continue their learning journey. The co-facilitator’s role is that of a mentor, someone who has recently taken the course and understands how the participants feel. They should share insights, how they tackled problems in the course work, offer advice and sympathy and basically be a friend. They should also comment on the group work and the participants’ blog posts.
The facilitator and co-facilitator should have regular contact with each other to discuss the group work and how to support the participants in the best way possible. The co-facilitator can for example record a short video sharing experience of the course and lessons learned, preferably offering a different perspective from that of the facilitator. Sometimes the co-facilitator will have to facilitate a group meeting when the facilitator is unable to attend.
Co-facilitators are not responsible for course administration or certification but are there to provide support to the participants and the facilitator. The co-facilitators are not paid for their contribution but they are awarded a certificate.