Reflecting on Facilitating Forum Discussions

While I am technically done my instructional strategies course and thus do not have an obligation or incentive to maintain my blog…I…am…going…to try. That’s right one of my quasi new year’s resolutions is to maintain this blog–quasi meaning I made it up right now.

Anyways, I wanted to share a passage from my reflection on facilitating forum discussions. The experience of leading a forum discussion led to some deep insights regarding learning and the role of facilitation vs participation.

One of the things I found very interesting is that the more we engaged in the topic as a group the more controversial the technique became. Some of the first posts were polite with participants indicating they may try that method. By the end of the forum, most people where either firmly for or against the technique. I think this is an important insight about learning. At first learners may have surface reactions/commentary about a topic. However, by probing with questions, the learner needs to reconsider those insights and begins to articulate an opinion. It was quite remarkable to watch this in action, while also experiencing it myself.

This insight also leads to an important insight about facilitation. While the forum is a vey self-directed activity, without facilitation it would not lead to the kind of deep learning I described above. Most people would just state their initial reactions and comments, then move on. Facilitation adds challenge to the learner’s view, so that they reflect more, articulate, and refine their view. Facilitation encourages learners to become more invested in the topic, rather than passively acknowledging the topic exists.

This also highlights the difference between facilitation and participation. As a participant, you have not obligation challenge another participant’s view. Even when you do challenge another participants view, it is usually to put forward your own perspective which may be in conflict. However, as a facilitator you have an obligation to challenge participants. The nature of the challenge is different too. It’s not to demonstrate another perspective or correct, but to lead the learner to think deeper.

This insight is quite important to me, as I have often struggled with seeing the purpose of my role. I am a strong believer in self-directed/regulated study. My most enriching experiences as a learner have been self-directed. I also prefer distance and online classes. And I think the ultimate goal is for everyone to be as comfortable as I am with self-directed/regulated. But doesn’t such a strong belief like this eventually lead to defeating the purpose for teachers?

Yes and No. It changes the role of teachers. The more self-directed/regulated, the more the role becomes one of a supporter/challenger. As a self-directed/regulated facilitator, you are an expert in learning and challenging, not the content or subject.

Before this insight, rather than asking doesn’t my philosophy defeat teacher, I should have been asking “why do I as a self-directed/regulated learner keep returning to institutionalized learning when I could do it on my own?” Hopefully, it’s not because I have to buy my friends.




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