A new role: eLearning Guide

Professional training via CD-ROM flopped. Why? Because we took the instructors and coaches out of the picture. The learning process breaks down when "untouched by human hands." A ringing phone interrupts a standalone learning exercise, and CD-ROM courses become shelfware.

eLearning has enormous potential for making learning faster, more thorough, less tedious, more challenging, less expensive, and more fun, but if we try to cut costs by removing people from the equation, eLearning will be but another failed experiment. Learning is social. People learn from one another. The Internet turbocharges learning because it brings people together.

eLearners interact in many ways. They "attend" virtual presentations, seminars, and classes. They participate in online discussions, both realtime and anytime. They connect with fellow learners, learning coaches, mentors, facilitators, and others by email, video conference, telephone, messaging, and voice chat. They get together when they hit a bump in the road (help desk) or at a scheduled time (office hours). To make the most of a virtual learning environment, most learners need a Guide.


New role for instructors -- eLearning Guide

Classroom trainers have always worn many hats. The eLearning environment adds more. The on-line role is more challenging but more flexible and varied. The new job is to answer questions, to coach, to steer, to encourage, to lead -- but not to instruct. There's less travel and more variety. Let's call this new role "eLearning Guide."

The Guide's role changes over time. At first, the Guide spends time kicking things off, defining boundaries, organizing the learning process, and explaining how things work. The Guide sets expectations and monitors participation.

With the passage of time, more and more responsibility for learning shifts from the instructor to the learner. The Guide becomes more a mentor, coach, advisor, and trouble-shooter.

Changing roles of the eLearning Guide
as learners gain experience.

As learners become more experienced and a group culture takes hold, the Guide spends less face-to-face time with learners, real or virtual. But as the group matures, the Guide will need a greater depth of subject-matter expertise (to noodle through the issues groups of learners couldn't figure out for themselves.)


"Sage on the stage" becomes "guide on the side"

Interaction among students, between facilitator and learners, and between the learners and the learning materials, (including the larger community on the WWW) as managed by the instructor makes or breaks the class. When a facilitator makes the transition from onground to online, he/she does not retain the role of "distributor of information" in a teacher-centered classroom. Rather an instructor’s energy should be channeled to become the medium whereby the discovery of learning is facilitated in a student-centered environment. No longer a "sage on the stage, " the online instructor becomes a "guide on the side," helping others to discover and synthesize the learning material. To this end, the facilitator must believe in the effectiveness of the on the online paradigm and the value of critical thinking. Hence, traditional teaching methods simply do not succeed given the changes in the learning environment. This brings new pressures on instructors, both to deal with a different way of teaching, interacting and managing a 24-hour-a-day classroom populated by adults who demand relevance and may require extra support due to their already busy lives.

A responsible on-line facilitator needs:

  • Ability to create an atmosphere of collaborative teamwork. Learners depend on one another for a large portion of their learning. The facilitator needs to know how to work as part of this team as well as help learners work with each other.
  • Find a balance between leading the group and creating an environment where learners themselves meet the learning objectives. The leadership model becomes one of dynamic facilitation, which is a shift away from an authoritarian style toward a more democratic style.

Source: Key Elements of an Online Program

Advice for the Online Instructor: Keep It Interpersonal comes from The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Would you enjoy being an eLearning Guide?

Some stand-up instructors love being eLearning Guides. They enjoy the challenge of motivating a group they cannnot see. They enjoy solving problems more than delivering content. (And they may like the freedom of leading a class while in their pajamas.)

Other classroom instructors don't enjoy the Guide role. They are often people who are energized by a live audience. They enjoy the give and take of the classroom. They don't find eLearning at all cool.

My advice? If you know in your heart that you'll always be a live classroom person, don't shoehorn yourself into something you don't enjoy. You won't be happy, nor will the learners you work with.



What an effective guide does

Patti Shank, Managing Partner of Insight Ed breaks the actions of an effective on-line Guide into administrative, facilitation, technical, and evaluation tasks. (She assumes the Guide already has credible content knowledge, understanding of how people learn, and a desire to teach.)


The primary goal of these competencies is to assure smooth course operations, improve adherence to policies and procedures, and enhance learner comfort level and retention. The instructor’s actions provide the framework for learning and reduce learner apprehensions related to course content and procedures.

Sets course agenda, objectives, rules, and decision-making norms.
Posts course materials (syllabus, assignments, discussion topics, etc.) at the beginning of the course.
Posts timely bulletins about changes and updates to course.
During first week, assures that all learners are ‘on board’ and responding (contacts privately by phone or email if not).
Returns learner calls/emails within 24 hours.
Refers learner problems to advisors and follows up to assure resolution.


The primary goal of these competencies is to enhance cognitive outcomes related to course objectives and foster community and collaboration among class participants. The instructor’s actions improve learner satisfaction with the course and program.

Manages discussion and learner interactions with leadership and direction.
Posts thoughtful discussion questions related to the topic and appropriate to the desired cognitive outcomes (Bloom’s Taxonomy).
Moderates discussion, models desired methods of communication.
Engages learners, fosters sharing of participants’ knowledge, questions, and expertise.
Contributes outside resources (online, print-based, others).
Contributes advanced content knowledge and insights, weaves together discussion threads. Helps learners apply, analyze, and synthesize content.
Fosters group learning.
Minimum of 10% of discussion postings are from the instructor.
Provides public and private acknowledgment to learners who contribute to discussion.
Privately (by email or phone) asks non-contributing learners to participate in discussion.


The primary goal of these competencies is to assure that technical aspects of the course are running smoothly and learner barriers due to technical components are quickly overcome. The instructor’s actions help make the technology relatively transparent to the learner.

Proficient with all technical systems used in the course.
Helps learners troubleshoot technical systems used in the course and refers to appropriate help sources, as needed.
Helps learners quickly feel comfortable with the system and the software.


The primary goal of these competencies is to establish high standards, assure that learners understand how they will be evaluated, and provide assistance in meeting course objectives.

Provides learners with clear grading criteria.
Reminds learners about upcoming assignments.
Expects college level writing (in higher ed courses). Grades/corrects spelling and grammar mistakes.
Provides examples of desired writing/assignments.
Provides resource ideas for completing assignments.
Assists learners who are having problems (by email or phone) completing the assignments.
Acknowledges receipt of assignments within 24 hours.
Returns learners assignments, with detailed notes and grade, within 96 hours.
Contacts (by email or phone) learners who have not completed assignments within 24 hours after assignment due date. Helps learner work out plan to complete assignments.


Tips for Teaching Online in Real Time from Centra

Use Interaction to Motivate, Engage, and Involve Learners Facilitating Web-based training is like being the host of a very lively talk show. It is your job to keep your viewers motivated, engaged and involved. Web-based training programs delivered with Symposium are not passive experiences! To be successful, make learners part of the program by using the techniques outlined below.

Engage Learners Engage learners by asking them to participate verbally and intellectually. As a facilitator, the easiest way to engage students is to ask direct questions frequently. Ask learners to comment on a presentation, share their observations, or answer a direct question. Turn the tables by encouraging students to initiate questions to the instructor, as well as to other learners. Intellectually engage learners by asking them to think how the course is related to their experience and to consider other points-of-view.

Vary the Interactivity Vary the interactions to keep learners attention. Lessons can include lectures, debates, role-plays, quizzes, question and answer sessions, Web Safaris and breakout groups.



Free training for eLearning Guides from Placeware every Monday and Tuesday. Naturallly, these sessions focus on using Placeware software but you'll pick up plenty of pointers on eLearning Guiding in general.

© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California