Facilitating Synchronous Sessions

Synchronous facilitation skills

Facilitating in synchronous online environments is something that is fairly new to many of us. Jones & Gallen, in their 2016 article (referenced below) note that "unlike face-to-face teaching, few [of us] have experience of being taught through synchronous communication methods" (p. 623). So here we are, learning new skills that many of us haven't experienced as a learner. Nothing like signing up for a challenge!

In the same article, Jones & Gallen indicate that "it is useful to make a distinction between development of technical competence and the development of practices which facilitate effective learning using such tools" (p. 616). So as facilitators in these environments we must not only learn and enhance our technical skills that we would use synchronously online, but facilitation skills as well.

But are all skills that we should employ in these types of environments "new" skills? Many skills (or at least the philosophies that lay behind them) that we have developed for use in face to face teaching can translate to the online environment, either in asynchronous or synchronous settings, but some say that there are also new skills to learn.

First, take a look at this list of facilitation skills and strategies that we also feature in the Facilitating Learning Online - Fundamentals course - which supports people in learning how to teach asynchronously online. While this list does feature a few items that clearly indicate that they are meant to be employed across the duration of a longer, asynchronous online course, there are many items that would still be considered best practice in synchronous online facilitation as well. Some examples are:

  • Welcoming learners
  • Developing own technical skills
  • Fostering a safe and supportive learning environment
  • Using humour
  • Modelling effective discussion strategies

And more! In fact we could argue that over 95% of that list could be also applied to facilitating synchronously online, even though the list was written about facilitating asynchronously online.

Yet Jennifer Hofmann, President of InSync Training, a corporation which specializes in "virtual training", argues that there are multiple skills for synchronous online facilitation, which are different than what is needed in the face to face classroom. In her article, "Virtually There: Developing the Competencies of Virtual Classroom Facilitators", she lists the following areas as crucial for "virtual trainers" to be skilled in:

  1. Digital Literacy: The ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share and create content using information technologies and the Internet
  2. Virtual Classroom Fluency: The ability to gauge the success of a virtual activity or conversation by reading digital cues and managing simultaneous conversations.
  3. Cultural Intelligence: The ability to consider the audience and facilitate interactions that are inclusive and provide needed support for the culturally diverse global audience.
  4. Time Management: The ability to manage a virtual event in such a way that participants are engaged, desired outcomes are met, and a strict timetable is adhered to.
  5. Application of Adult Learning Principles: The ability to analyze a blended learning design to ensure the principles of Adult Learning are upheld and program objectives are met.


Mark H. Jones & Anne-Marie Gallen (2016) Peer observation, feedback and reflection for development of practice in synchronous online teaching, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 53:6, 616-626. (Note: This optional resource is not openly available on the Internet but if you are part of an educational institution you may be able to find it through your library's electronic system.)