We recently launched a new e-learning course on budget formulation. As I was preparing to facilitate the course, I wanted to make sure I follow the advice of my colleague Tina Žagar. In her recent blog post she pointed to the importance of reflecting on our (learning) practice. She alluded to the significance of observing what creates values when we want to learn new things. While I already approached the online facilitation with great care and a lot of preparation for the course participants to get the most out of their online experience, her advice kept resonating with me throughout the course. How should I keep participants motivated for the whole five weeks and how to stipulate learning among participants with different learning theories?
Although I have facilitated several e-learning courses in the past, this one was different to me: on one hand because I was so closely involved in both the content preparation and instructional design of the course and on the other hand because I wanted to bring in the strong momentum of peer-to-peer learning. Knowledge exchange or peer-to-peer learning is a powerful “tool” that can foster reform processes as it allows individuals to learn from each other’s experience and good practice. Furthermore, it is an approach to learning that we have been strongly promoting at the CEF. So my aim was to bring this learning feature to an online environment.
While we prepared the course materials, recorded videos with experts, it was still participants’ knowledge and experience that was put into the center of this course. We asked the participants to review each other’s assignments, comment on them, make suggestions for improvements or compare other submissions with their country specifics. Providing peer feedback was also part of the overall assessment.
The feedback that we received was quite interesting, ranging from excitement about being assessed by peers and being the one to provide a critical assessment of someone else’s work to feeling less comfortable about having to work with peers instead of working individually or getting feedback from an “expert”. As in the case of face-to-face learning initiatives, people learn differently, and consequently some prefer to learn from experts while others enjoy learning from the practical experience of other practitioners. Yet it seems almost all of them appreciated motivating features and stimulations throughout the e-learning course.
Based on participants’ appreciation of a friendly online environment, I wanted to reflect on my practice of online facilitation by coming up with my top five motivational tips for successful facilitation of e-learning courses.
We created 16 different types of badges: “Written Skills”, “Strategic Thinking”, “Stress Management”, “Creative Thinking” and “PR”. Accompanied with witty descriptions of what was needed to be awarded a badge, these turned out to be a huge success! People loved earning the badges and they even often contacted me to find out when they would qualify for the next one. It is easy and fun to create badges and they add a relaxed and motivating feature to online learning.
Besides providing feedback to participants on their work that was visible to every course member, I also sent individual messages to participants. I did this to reflect on their work or ask specific questions on how they developed their ideas or to thank them for sending elaborated and well-intended feedback to their peers. As our participants are public officials with regular jobs, having to spend additional time on online learning can be challenging. They reported that getting individual feedback helped them to be more focused and stimulated them to keep going throughout these five weeks.
Inspirational quotes: Food for thought
When supporting online learning it is important for the facilitators to compensate for the absence of physical presence and body language. So I asked my colleague Cvetka Mozoli to prepare inspirational quotes that would relate to the topics we discussed in certain weeks. Cvetka regularly sends inspirational quotes to the CEF staff members and she also posts them around the CEF, even the toilets, so we have actually become quite well known in the region for our quotes. Thus putting them online was a must-have! People loved them and also liked that they were accompanied with funny visual effects.
Use of social media
Throughout the course I kept tweeting about the topic we discussed in certain weeks. We also created a hashtag for the course and asked people to tweet about it or at least look at what others are tweeting on the topic. Those who got involved in social media discussions could earn a “Social Media” badge. But what it actually helped to achieve is spreading discussions through different means, so that those participants who were more inclined to get feedback from bigger and varied networks were able to do so.
Working with other facilitators
Even if our group of online participants was relatively small – we had 24 participants – it was important to feel that the whole experience was highly interactive and constantly changing. People need different types of approaches and stimulations, so inviting other facilitators to join our online discussions proved very rewarding for the participants. Plus it allowed us, the facilitators, to really think through how to respond to individual and group work, and to come up with a variety of ideas on how learning could be further stipulated.
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the CEF.