Invisible Adult Educators: Public Online Discussion Group Moderators' Perceptions of their Roles, Tasks and Responsibilities

Open Access
Collins, Marie Patricia
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 09, 2002
Committee Members:
  • Melody M Thompson, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Eunice May Askov, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Gary Edward Miller, Committee Member
  • William Dryden Milheim, Committee Member
  • online discussion groups
  • moderators
  • discussion facilitators
  • adult education practitioners
Over the past seventy years the study of adult education has professionalized, and some groups of informal adult educators have become marginalized. Despite their daily influence on the informal learning experiences of millions of adults, moderators of public online discussion groups appear to be invisible and irrelevant to the study of adult education. One hundred and thirty-six moderators of online public discussion groups responded to this study of their perceptions of their roles, tasks, and responsibilities as moderators and as informal adult educators. Participant observation of moderators' discussion groups indicated a trend towards the professionalization of this formerly volunteer activity, confirmed, by 13 percent of the respondents, as income-generating employment. Moderator's composite roles and their indicators have changed over the past 10 years, with a new category of host/hostess added to filter, firefighter, editor, discussion leader, discussion facilitator, administrator, expert, helper, marketer, and publicist. Moderators found their tasks to be a source of personal satisfaction and relaxation; an opportunity for volunteerism and service; professional development; and as a source of income. Formal discussion guidelines were valuable as one half reported they were not leaders, but peers in their groups. Moderators were motivated by making interpersonal connections; facilitating professional development and knowledge sharing; creating community; and receiving personal and professional recognition. The most challenging aspect of their work was dealing with difficult people. Patience was reported as a moderator's most desirable quality and some form of apprenticeship was considered the best way to acquire moderating skills. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents believed they functioned as adult educators and when compared with the adult education literature, their activities did closely resemble "best practices" for face-to-face discussion facilitators. Moderators associated together in membership groups in their own milieu, defining themselves by the online tasks they performed. They have developed consistent standards for communication behaviors among group members. They offer training and advice to new moderators, and assist one another in solving problems with networks, software, hosting organizations, and discussion group members. Moderators were found to function as an invisible, professional public of informal adult educators, independent of academic adult education institutions.