We've been discussing the differences between a facilitator, teacher & moderator on the FOC mailing list, and course member Greg Barcelon brought a refreshingly straightforward approach to the question. In response to Leigh Blackall's dilemma of whether to "yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator", or develop the facilitation skills that would encourage a more self-directed learning environment, he had this to say:
"I believe we get caught in such a dilemma when we take Facilitating as an exclusive term. The dilemma is resolved once we go back to its basic definition as: “to make possible or easier” And this is where context plays a very important role, because in the context of ‘facilitating as making it possible or easier,” then we can be facilitating as Teachers when we make learning possible or easier, and we can be facilitating as Moderator when we make discussion or exchange of information possible/easier…"
I agree! Of course what a facilitator “is” in any given situation depends on what’s being facilitated! In a learning environment like this one, it’s entirely appropriate to ‘teach’ to some degree or another (in this case, create a curriculum, put forward a reading list, set questions and tasks, etc.) AND facilitate conversation (like Leigh has been doing by setting up a workable structure and participating in the conversation), AND moderate the interaction if and when the need arises. I think that’s what facilitation IS in this context. And yes, it is more challenging than simply “teaching” in the old model.
In my opinion, Leigh’s doing a great job in this three-ring circus school of facilitation. It’s very much like the pedagogic model I experienced at Sussex University in the UK where I got my degrees during the 90s. We had a lot of autonomy and scope for self-directed learning within a very well facilitated container of resources and support made available as needed. In my experience it’s a model that works well both online and off.