The Facilitator’s Role in Dissipating the Fear of Online Learners

PIDP 3100 – Foundations of Adult Education
Vancouver Community College
Kathryn Truant
December 5, 2015

“Persevering at online learning is also affected by computer and information literacy, time management . . . online communication skills . . . self-esteem, feelings of belongingness in the online program, and the ability to develop interpersonal skills with peers . . .” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 199).

This quote is “near and dear” to my heart, as one could discern from the length of this journal. I would like to begin by reflecting on my own reasons for enrolling in online learning; I simply do not have time to attend scheduled classroom courses. In fact, the majority of non-traditional learners are enrolled in online classes for this reason alone (Shirky, 2015). I discussed perseverance earlier in this course in my Trends and Roles Blog, but that was from the perspective of the student. I’m going to try to reflect on Merriam and Bierema’s quote from the perspective of the facilitator.

What have I learned from reflecting on Merriam and Bierema’s quote?

I’ve done a lot of research during this Foundations of Adult Education course about perseverance and technology, two completely different aspects of adult education, but in this day and age, the two are permanently interconnected. Online learning, and the anxiety that it causes non-traditional learners is not a new phenomenon. When the  printing press was invented over 500 years ago, it expanded the access to information for those who had learned or were inclined to learn to read. Literacy eventually became synonymous with a better way of life. Many people at the time thought that it was the downfall of society because only academics and the church should be the dispensers of knowledge. Ignorance perpetuated fear. Many comparisons have been made in the past two decades regarding the printing press and online technology. An excerpt from a scholarly article published in 2005 highlights this,

“Change in the information age will be as dramatic as those in the Middle Ages in Europe. The printing press has been implicated in the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, all of which had profound effects on their eras; similarly profound changes may already be underway in the information age” (Dewar, 2005, p. 2).

In regards to online learning, it is the facilitator’s role to turn fear into an education that will propagate positive change.

What have I realized about teaching as a result of this quote?

It is my role as the facilitator to make my students comfortable with technology. Confidence occurs when newly learned and understood skills change one’s self-perception. “Change involves new behaviour and different ways of thinking, but what will limit this effort is the emotional processes involved. Of all the emotions, the most damaging is fear” (Robinson & Rose, 2007, p. 29). As a facilitator, do I really want to make things easier for my students who are afraid to learn technology? I live and breathe this every day. I encounter it at home with my husband, and at work. At times I enable it just to keep things working smoothly, and in essence I perpetuate my student’s fear; if I really want to grow their confidence in using technology, then I must focus on their anxiety and dissipate those obstacles that sustain it. In my experience, most individuals new to technology are afraid that they’re going to break something or embarrass themselves. A good facilitator needs to emphasize the importance of these “learning moments”.

My “Aha!” moment when reading this quote, how it changed my mind about being an adult educator, and one key insight that I now have.

How I make others feel says a lot about who I am, and I am not afraid of technology. Technology helps to expand our knowledge. Online learning offers opportunities for non-traditional learners to further their education. When I was in elementary school in the 1970’s, calculators were introduced into the classroom; parents thought that kids would no longer learn how to count, but in fact, calculators allowed teachers to introduce more complicated mathematical theories at younger ages. In the late 1990’s, the search engine Google was created and people thought that because of Google, we would know everything, but not learn anything: Google has simply enhanced, but not replaced available information to read and to share. In 2003, 99% of Canadian elementary and secondary schools had computers in the classrooms. BUT,
“The majority of school principals (76%) reported that more than 75% of teachers possessed the required technical skills to use computers for administrative purposes . . . However, fewer than half  of school principals felt that the majority of teachers had the necessary skills to integrate computers into their lesson plans or to engage their students in the use of computers to enhance learning” (Statistics Canada, 2004).
This statistic was recorded during the peak of the transitional period of mass introduction into technology, and it does not, I believe, reflect the knowledge and comfort of educators today (only a little over 10 years later!). Yet there are still non-traditional learners struggling with technology because of little or no experiential exposure to it, and it’s my role to help them make the transition as comfortably as possible.


I have categorized perseverance in online learning, from the facilitator’s perspective, down into two key affectations (I removed time management from my reflection, because I feel that students who lack this skill would not do well in ANY distance-learning format, although technology certainly helps with time-management, but this journal is already long enough!).

  1. Fear of Technology: Individuals who struggle to persevere with online learning are afraid of technology and this affects their self-esteem. I know this from personal experience, and I witness this phenomenon daily. It is not a new occurrence; information technology has advanced more in the past 20 years than at any other time in history, and an online education is more often the only option available to non-traditional students, most of whom did not have pedagogical exposure to the Internet. But, it is the facilitator’s responsibility to willingly adopt technologies in order to demonstrate the technologies’ ease of use (Contact North, 2015, p. 6). One must not forget to assess the learner’s propensity and knowledge of basic word-processing, something that is critical to the success of online learners, and a skill that is often overlooked or assumed that a learner possesses.
  2. Lack of Connection in an Online Environment: If lack of belongingness stems from the student’s lack of online communication skills, then it is the facilitator’s responsibility to create a hospitable learning environment. Often, these students have not had any social online connections either. Social media is a great ice-breaking tool. Getting online learners comfortable with games, and social media will build confidence and skill. “Learners also had better outcomes in courses where the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-driven than when learners were left to be self-directed on their own” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 198). I like that this course supports online learners by introducing forums, and assigning blogs and Facebook accounts.


Following the advent of the printing press, which is considered equally as important in terms of societal advancement as is information technology, that era had centuries to adapt to the new technology. The digital age and the speed in which technology advances today makes it imperative for the facilitator to adopt and utilize new technologies in a positive and encouraging manner in order to dispel the learner’s apprehension and inspire success.

@ Please refer to my Resources page for works cited