Time required to develop and facilitate online courses

In the Facilitating Online course today I received the following question:

When developing an online course, how does one decide how much time it would take to facilitate the course? Does one do an estimate per course participant? Are there other ideas?

I have decided to blog my response for broader conversation. Here’s my response:

I think it depends on the class size and nature of the course, what do other folks think? Do activities require a lot of facilitation for example – think about the intensity of communication around the PDPs for example. You email it to the course team or share in your learning journal, get feedback from the course team and fellow colleagues and then revise it. That’s quite different to just submitting an assignment. The facilitation, activities and course principles should align when developing the course. Like in this course, experiential and reflective learning is very important so interaction between people forms part of most activities. In another kind of course which might be more content driven it will likely be different. The course may also change in nature and be quite heavily facilitated at first and then once a community is established the course participants take on some of this role. David Merrill’s notion of dynamic support is also useful because it allows us to think about this process.

From the perspective of this course, I believe a facilitation team is crucial. With this course we have lead, support and back-up facilitators and we create a schedule of roles before the course. Our facilitators are advised to spend 4-5 hours a week facilitating. Of course in some weeks we take more time depending on the task and/or our roles that week. A lead facilitator for the week generally takes responsibility for posting the announcements for that week (although others generally contribute and check). We have a shared gmail account for course communications so we share that and completing the progress reports. So aside from actual facilitating there is quite a bit of admin too which is easier when the work is shared. This team has been facilitating together for quite some time, so practices around ways of working together emerge. When starting from scratch bear in mind that this will take time to develop practices among your own team and will likely develop further over time.

If you are a course convenor, you’d need to think about how to involve lecturers and tutors. It helps when you’re all working towards a shared goal and knowing your roles and responsibilities. Fellow lecturers and tutors will also need training and support. So a convenor is often double facilitating – for your facilitation team and the people on the course.

In a previous run of this course we had around 60 people and it was hectic. We realised the course may need some redesigning for upscaling. That’s partly why MOOCs have a high dropout rate – upscaling facilitation is not easy – good facilitation is resource intensive (facilitators). 10 people per facilitator on this course I think is a rough guide as we want it to be quite a connected learning experience. But the course is also free because it’s part of a funded project and facilitators are paid per hour. Would this be sustainable in other courses? While facilitating on a volunteer basis to gain experience and connect to like-minded professionals is an obvious win, at the end of the day people need to pay their bills. So asking people to facilitate for free for too many hours without pay (as in the case of some MOOCs) is not sustainable. Developing online courses involves not just designing course content, but designing a learning experience for course participants bearing in mind available human capacity. So while a heavily facilitated learning experience might be first prize, sometimes you have too few people to facilitate with and you don’t want to get burn out. So you go to plan B which is thinking about what you are able to do realistically with current capacity.

This article mentions levels of facilitation and expected number of hours per week. How does this relate to your course? What level do you see your course at?  This blog post with the main findings of a recent study on time requirements for developing and facilitating online courses may also be of interest.

Keen to hear what other folks thinksmiley

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