The Changing Role of Instructors Moving from Facilitation to Constructive Partnerships

The influences of new technology--in particular social media and Web 2.0 tools--socially and instructionally have been remarkable. In response to these influences, educators have been encouraged to change roles again and again as we become more familiar with the capabilities of the technology and its uses in instruction.

For the last several years, instructors have been presented with the challenge of moving from center stage to more of a support role--a facilitator. We have become aware that we no longer need to be the sole source of all information nor the one who presents every aspect of the course or who controls how information is presented and re-presented for evaluation. Rather, we have been encouraged to see our roles as guides or coaches to the process--those content or academic experts who are able to observe students as they learn, respond to direct questions, and guide students forward in their learning process by providing access to learning resources and customized learning supports.

However, as we transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 (and, more specifically, the modifications and new technology features and functions made possible by HTML5), it seems that we will be experiencing yet another change in our instructional role. The challenge is now to retain certain aspects of facilitation but move actively into the learning process itself and become partners in the process. As the "field" levels even further, we must understand and embrace the meaning and the implications of being constructive partners in the learning process.

Guides and Coaches and the Art of Facilitation
The foundational concepts of instructors guiding students or coaching their progress are based on the idea that the instructor is no longer at the center of the interaction and application of knowledge. The instructor remains as one of the resources available to students, a resource who can intervene when necessary and provide guidance in how to process the information of the course, how to better use the resources, and how to apply the core concepts to real life situations. The students are central to the process and are aware of all resources available to them, including the instructor. Of course, we have not all made that shift and many still prefer to be the source, the main speaker (voice), and the director of the course. Along with the challenge to become coach and guide came the challenge to develop new skills in facilitation, which include being able to guide and coach without unnecessarily influencing student choices or work and being able to facilitate the growth and development of students throughout a course of study so that they can contribute clearly and definitively to their own learning.

As we move toward more interactive media, continuous real-time networks and dynamic learning communities, bolder and media-rich exchanges of content, and increased opportunities for self-authoring, the role of the instructor is challenged again. The challenge this time is that facilitation is not enough--the challenge for the future of instruction is that we stand side-by-side with our students and all contribute equally and actively to a learning community. The learning community is also redefined as not confined to one class but open to anyone who connects. Such social media as Twitter, for example, expand the possibility that communities can be intentionally built and can disband just as quickly. This means that topics, ideas, and applications will drive the process for both instructor and learner and not the course itself or the instructor alone.

In fact, as the real-time networks and communities take hold, course structures and deliveries will change rapidly. Students may even be able to "follow" several topics from various courses at once and choose which course they will contribute to and for how long. Of course, grading and credits will still help make those decisions as some participation will be for a grade and others for community interaction and knowledge-building.

Learning Partners
The role, then, of instructors becomes more engaged throughout but as partners in the process and not only as facilitators. While facilitation skills will still be important, the overall goal becomes one of collaborative work and mutual support so that ideas are not only generated but built upon and produced in a meaningful context of use. Additionally, while instructors will still have content knowledge and the advanced formation of thinking, their focus will be to offer those as part of the overall process and expect full participation from students who also have some content knowledge and are in the process of forming their thinking. The long-term outcome, then, is advancement of ideas and the improvement of every participant's knowledge base and application expertise--including the instructor. Splashpressmedia posted the following in a piece addressing the new "waves" of the future, "The next revolution will come in waves. Google Waves.":

It's a new way of doing things. It's decentralized, open-source, and poised to take over online communications the way e-mail has, since it's built as a fundamental protocol. But it's not even just "the new e-mail", it lets you do a lot more than that.... This is not another reboot of the social network format the way Google redid e-mail with Gmail and redid search with Google Search. But it does feel this is the way social interactions on the Web were supposed to be.

Dewey's (1916) notion of "learning societies or communities" can now not only be addressing real life contexts of application, but learning can be experienced openly by anyone connected to the space.

The Importance of Democratizing the Process
The foundational reality is that the learning process will become more democratized than ever before. Expertise will be the result of a generative process, and learning will become open-ended; evaluation methods will focus on the process not on closed assignments or tests.


The reason is that newer technology is not only a continuation of social media and real-time tools but advancement of real-time connections and networking. Anyone anywhere can be connected at any time for any purpose, and those networks will transcend courses and class groups--that is the actual intention to expand networks and connections. As the United States has become a more sophisticated democratic system politically, there have been many authors and social commentators who have explored the notion of the democratizing of education. Writers such as Hofstadter in the 1960s and others since have explored how education and intellectualism have been influenced by politics and also by issues of social class, access, and opportunity. While the debate continues, newer emerging technology is providing the capability for an open landscape in education that really challenges old structures of learning and will continue to challenge our understanding of what good education looks like. Nancy Salvato wrote:

If we are truly to democratize learning opportunities, we need to stop telling people where and how they are to receive their education. Instead, we should develop standards that must be met to prove a certain "degree" of learning has taken place. Many of us are lifelong learners. Isn't that really the goal?

Therefore, the idea moves front and center that education can be constructed from interest and need and can be evaluated based on outcome rather than preset tests. This would revolutionize education as we know it.

Learning as a Process--not a Product
As I have written in several articles, we are already being stretched as educators to focus more on the process of learning rather than the product. This will increasingly become the focus as real-time networks and learning communities will be constantly engaged in process. The product or the result of those collaborations will be different each time, although still within the knowledge area of a course, but based on those who have participated in the process and how ideas have been used. Therefore, the true evaluation of learning will be how knowledge has been expanded and applied rather than preset information bites. This is a challenge to the mindset of the instructor and to the overall structures of courses and programs of study. The potential of the Internet for user customization will increase with emerging technology and will have a large impact on how education is both organized and delivered. Instructors will also become more aware of their own learning process and integrate that more intentionally in the collaborative learning process of a community of learners.

Once again, then, the role of instructors is being challenged and redefined. It is important to emphasize that this is not a passive experience for instructors in the sense that we should simply wait and see what happens and where we will be in terms of student expectations. It is, actually, a highly active experience and a call for educators to begin now to engage with changes in technology and explore the implications for teaching methods as we move forward.

As never before, educators must be front and center of the emergence of newer technology and already explore the capabilities to improve the learning experience for students and instructors alike. We must truly engage with the process at every level.


Richard Hofstadter, "The 214th Columbia Commencement Address"; American Scholar, 37 (1968)

John Dewy, (1916) Democracy and Education. The Macmillan Co. Copyright renewed 1944 John Dewey. HTML markup copyright 1994 ILT Digital Classics.