Online Facilitation / Tutoring

How to support participants as a facilitator (tutor) in remote learning formats?

The challenge

Online trainings and courses offer many new opportunities. However, due to the lack of direct in-person contact and, in some cases, of synchronous presence, some challenges and additional tasks also arise such as keeping participants motivated over time or moderating a discussion forum. Similar challenges apply for Blended Learning where a person needs to provide support for the asynchronous component of the learning. It is often underestimated that facilitating an online course requires a substantial time investment from the organisers.


The solution

A facilitator (or tutor) is a trainer (or moderator) for online courses who is in charge of the tasks that arise specifically as a result of the virtual format. Therefore, the scope differs from the task of a face-to-face trainer.


The general tasks of a facilitator (tutor) are:

  • to communicate with the participants,
  • to maintain personal contact and to motivate them,
  • to moderate chat or video sessions,
  • to maintain or update the timetable of the training,
  • to monitor the completion of tasks by the participants, and
  • to serve as a contact person for all queries.


A facilitator needs to be familiar with the technical tools and have time to interact with participants. Apart from that, an online facilitator needs similar skills as a face-to-face trainer such as moderation skills, social skills and patience.

If the facilitator is also the subject matter expert, he/she needs the required technical knowledge, too. Very often online courses are facilitated by a team though, with some persons covering the subject matter aspects, and another person covering the organizational and motivational aspects.

Facilitating an online course requires time, and very often more time than is generally assumed. The amount of time depends on various aspects, such as the number of participants, the didactic approach (e.g. organizing and reviewing assignments takes more time than “just” leading participants through the content; virtual teamwork needs more support than individual learning, etc.), the intended supervision intensity, etc. For example, to adequately support an online course with about 20 participants, a few hours per week should be allocated.

Some typical activities for an online facilitator include moderating synchronous and asynchronous events.


Moderating synchronous events

Holding virtual events by means of a video conference has been addressed elsewhere (e-training, workshop, moderation script, avoiding technical difficulties).

An alternative to videoconference meetings can be a simple text chat, for example, when participants do not have the connectivity to use a videoconferencing tool. Text chats are available in almost all Learning Management Systems. Here are some tips concerning the moderation of text chats:

  • Communicate the time schedule for the live chats at the beginning of the course
  • Send a reminder one week and one hour before the start
  • Clearly communicate the “chat rules”, e.g.:
    • Please choose a dark color for your contributions. My color as a tutor will be red.
    • If you would like to make a direct comment to another person, please address this person by their first name (e.g. Elisa: …)
    • Please be kind and polite to your chat partners.
  • Create a positive atmosphere and, if the size of the group allows it, welcome each participant
  • Prepare the chat rules, the specific topic of the chat, and the closing message on a separate word document, ready to be copied into the chat
  • Introduce the specific topic into the chat
  • Be prepared to re-send the topic in case of disconnected participants who re-join the session
  • Side discussions in the chat can be distracting. The tutor should always follow the chat and be able to intervene in such a case. The tutor can send personal messages, if necessary and the chat platform allows it
  • The tutor can address and ask questions of individual participants
  • The tutor can ask the participants to give quickly their feedback by typing y for yes or n for no into the chat
  • Keep an eye on the time schedule and have the closing statement prepared in advance.

Moderating asynchronous communication

In online courses, asynchronous communication often comprises discussion forums and email. Some practical tips how to organize this form of communication include:

  • Prepare a mailing list;
  • Check whether all e-mail addresses are correct and ask for alternative e-mail addresses;
  • Use the platform for regular communication, announcement of chats or events, or other tasks;
  • Use emails for reminders and questions
  • Facilitators should strive to respond quickly to participants’ questions in order to show interest and commitment
  • Write personal emails to foster engagement and motivation.




Tools and technical aspects

The tools relevant for tutoring are mainly communication tools. They can be part of the learning management system (LMS), or external tools can also be used, depending on the didactic approach of the online course and the preferences of the facilitator.


Karin Vondeberg
Heike Koch

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