Leigh Blackall has just written a wonderful exploration of the dilemmas created by wanting to facilitate online learning while the learners want content delivered to them by an instructor:
But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community.
As I've reflected up Leigh's dilemma, that I've also experienced myself, I'm seeing facilitation as a special case for a particular subset of evolved learners. The robust expectations for "getting instructed" that Leigh articulates superbly, are reflections of how far along the learners have come in putting new knowledge to use. Of course this came to my mind as another taxonomy:
Questions of comprehension: Learners who a new to a domain of knowledge are on unfamiliar ground. They need maps, guidebooks and landmarks. Their hunger for formal instruction is not pathological. It's the nature of lacking familiarity, being unsure of themselves and getting easily misled. Learners at this stage can get what they need from archived material online, a modicum of research skills and personally meaningful questions to guide their search.
Questions of qualification: Learners who already comprehend the terms and concepts want formal procedures to follow. They want to make sure they are "executing the recipe right". They want to be tested by someone qualified to catch their mistakes, clear up their misunderstandings, recognize what is getting overlooked and show them how to successfully conform to the procedures. Their hunger for "click2death" content is not pathological. Learners at this stage can get what they need from sequential modules, games and interactive exercises that score their key presses and monitor their progress.
Questions of application: Learners who are already qualified to execute procedures compliantly are getting into trouble in the field. The recipe does not always work. Sometimes problems get misdiagnosed or made worse by standard procedures. Learners want a community of practitioners they can learn from, exchange concerns with, and gain new insights into unusual situations. Learners at this stage can get what they need from the online facilitation of social learning processes.
Questions of contribution: Learners who can troubleshoot breakdowns and nuance application contexts have a lot to offer others. They are in a position to generate valuable content and respond helpfully to comments, queries and contradictory viewpoints from their readers, subscribers and linkers. Learners at this stage can get what they want by publishing, uploading, and contributing to collective efforts online.
Returning to the dilemma of instructing and facilitating, it now appears to me that the opportunity to facilitate learners must first be created by getting them past the stage of seeking procedural compliance and certified qualification.