The online versus the face-to-face facilitator

If you are a good and effective facilitator in face-to-face meetings, does it mean you are also a high performing online facilitator? Online facilitation requires another way of thinking, acting and communication. You don't see the facial expressions. Body language and non-verbal interactions between people are absent. An online facilitator looks from a different perspective at people's participation in groups. 'By reading sentences and comments in discussions, you get a sixth sense in noticing people's sentiments', explains Sibrenne Wagenaar. 'If an issue is important and crucial, you start to ask in-depth questions.'

The' facilitator and social media' was the main theme of a workshop, which was organized by the International Associaction of Facilitators - Benelux on the 19th May 2011 at Seats2Meat in Utrecht. The two authors of the book 'En_Nu_Online', Sibrenne Wagenaar and Joitske Hulsebosch shared their experiences on how the today's facilitator can integrate social media tools in their intervention processes. How to deal and play the role of the online facilitator? was one of the main topics during this workshop.
See video: Photo impressions workshop 'Facilitator and social media'
'Fifty percent of an online facilitators' communication is outside a virtual discussion', says Sibrenne Wagenaar. 'When an online discussion is going on the facilitator has regular contact with individual participants. For example: Just inquiring how somebody is doing, when he was two weeks travelling for work and silent in a discussion. Or asking somebody to share their expertise, when you know through informal information that he has been attending an interesting workshop. An online facilitator is constantly checking the processes that are going on in the group and connecting people to people.'

'An online facilitator is the key person who gets the process going', tells Joitske Hulsebosch. 'He should not only know about group dynamics, but also about social media tools. The literature (Jane Hart) distinguishes three models on how to apply social media in e-learning processes', explains Joitske Hulsebosch.

1. Wrap Around Model; Using social media before, between and after face-to-face meetings. For example a joint weblog which is used for collecting expectations for a workshop or using a Ning platform to get acquainted with each other.
2. Integrated model: The primary focus of the learning process is the content. An online community platform is functioning as a meeting place, where information, resources and discussions are shared. Through face-to-face meetings and online discussions, people use the platform for doing specific tasks and assignments. Applications such as Blackboard, Moodle or wiki platforms are regulary used in such a model.
3. Collaboration model: Social learning and co-operation are the foundation of this learning process. Contents and new knowledge is created by the participants. Brainstorming, co-creation and intensive cooperation are characteristics of this model. Tools such as google doc's, wiki, discussion groups and skype are applied in this model.

'Facilitating an online discussion group takes average a half day of work in a week', says Joitske Hulsebosch. Other roles of an online facilitator are:
· To summarize discussions
· To facilitate participants' feedback and evaluations
· To assist in preparing the key questions, topics or case studies to ensure participation of the community
· To create a safe atmosphere by maintaining the ground rules, keeping control of the rythm and time span of the discussions and facilitating energizers and fun in between content discussions
· To ensure that technical requirements are working, so that participants are not hindered by technical problems
'Of course there are many similarities with a face-to-face facilitator', says Joitske Hulsebosch. 'It is all about building relationships! '
More about the publication 'En_Nu_Online' read the blogspot article at Simon Koolwijk's blog. More about Joitske's en Sibrenne's services on online facilitation can be read at the blog 'Online Faciliteren en meer'.
IAF-Benelux will be organizing their annual Conference on the 23rd September, 2011 at Kontakt der Kontinenten in Soesterberg. The main theme of the Conference is 'Faciliteren als {2e} beroep. People can register themselves through the website of IAF-Benelux and 'Faciliteren als {2e} beroep.


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