|In July we completed the Design and Facilitation of Blended Learning course. As teachers, we are proud of the beautiful designs for online lessons, online workshops, interactive videos and coaching programs, which were already already implemented in many cases. It was an intensive course: interrupted by corona. The second live meeting was canceled and we went online. Although we were quite comfortable doing the program online, we missed something. Since the course is already blended, it shows that we really get energy from working with the group. In the live session in Utrecht, the theme (design, tools or facilitation) is put into context and the online experiences fall into place.
I notice that the course is already well balanced in its blend: each block has two weeks online and one morning in Utrecht. It gives a lot of energy to see each other. Without the live session you miss part of the group process. Fortunately, the last session could be a live session, although two people immediately wanted to participate online. At the last minute we received two more emails ... they prefered online too! We suddenly found ourselves in a real hybrid meeting: half online, half face-to-face.
Will hybrid sessions be the new norm?
Is hybrid the future? I would not know. Maybe we will have more online learning trajectories than blended. It is interesting that one participant did not bother to travel because it would save her time. The standard could also become to organize hybrid session. Firstly, because we can accommodate fewer people or students in a room (we had to cope with a maximum of 9). Secondly, it gives participants the freedom to decide for themselves whether they are willing to travel and meet others. In any case, we thought it gave a lot of energy to be together like this, even for the online participants!
How to organize a hybrid session
We have quite some experiences with one participant online. In this case we have her face embodied on the laptop via the webcam and carry her around. In this case we had four online participants. We asked in advance about the tool options (many are not allowed to zoom): the preferences were Skype and Zoom. We decided to put people on two laptops. Mainly, because having two laptops with each two people made the organization of the groupwork easier. In the session, it also proved to be fun to have two laptop groups, so that it is not 'us in the room' versus 'them online'. It is a challenge, however, to ensure that the online participant's experience runs smoothly. Some tips from our experience:
- It helps to experience it for yourself, so offer to join as an online participant at a live meeting or meeting.
- Make sure the online participants are clearly visible. That can be on a big screen or as a 'laptop head'. This way you avoid to forget them.
- An external webcam can ensure that the room is clearly visible to the online participants. This is especially nice with an online speaker, as he / she also sees the reactions of the audience.
- It can be more difficult to break into a discussion online, but this can also apply to the live participants. Therefore, agree how to ask for the word, eg by raising your hand. As a facilitator you may structure the important more by giving turns, so everyone gets their change.
- Work regularly in subgroups, mixing online participants with face-to-face (better with headset). Or create a group of two online participants who may exchange online together.
- The audio was not always optimal for the online participants. A speakerphone might improve that and is something I would like to try next time.
- Divide the care for the online participants. Who is watching who? You can divide the tasks between facilitators or apply a buddy system whereby everybody who is present face-to-face is the buddy of an online person.
- With large groups both face-to-face and online, it is good to have a face-to-face and online facilitator who work together and occasionally work with their own group.
The group dynamics in this blended session
The group dynamics were fine after all, because they want to stay in touch! One person never met the others face-to-face but clearly felt comfortable. I felt there was no real difference between the online and life participants (except that we had our coffees together in the sun :).
A participant: "Never had such a steep learning curve. And today, I experienced firsthand how hybrid learning works. It went really well: beyond expectations!"
Well some of you may have different dreams, but one of my dreams was to facilitate a whole week online. I was interested to see how to make the program balanced and interesting, combine fun with work. Thanks to corona my dream came true :).
I facilitated the yearly exchange from an alliance active in 13 countries. From Guatemala to Indonesia. For a whole week. Yes that is super fun! What I liked the most was that I felt I got to know a number of people at the end of the week. However, not the whole group. Of course, the online week resulted from the corona crisis and we could have had more fun all together in the Netherlands, so this is definitely not a plea to do everything online. On the other hand, only 20 people would have come together in the Netherlands and we involved 40-45 people in our exchanges, even 80 in one meeting which was open to a wider group.
In the video below with the title 'locked in a room for a week' I share my experiences.
We had working sessions, fun sessions and knowledge sessions. We used google classroom, regional assignments and Flipgrid to weave all together. We did quite a good evaluation with mentimeter
and I was particularly happy with the word cloud and the feelings of the participants regarding the balance.
It is of course paramount to do something like this as a team. I had a group of 3 colleagues to work with. We actually didn't talk that much about our division of tasks, but it surfaced kind of naturally. During the week had a Whatsapp group, which we mainly used to briefly tune who does what. We started every day at 9 a.m. with the facilitators team looking back and look ahead. At the end of the week it was quite impressive to see what grounds we had covered, from learning about food systems to developing communication plans and learning from communication experts to formulating an advocacy message for parliament.
How do you take care of yourself as a facilitator? Being locked in a room for a week is of course somewhat exaggerated. I had kept my calendar completely empty as much as possible, so it didn't feel like an extremely busy week. I regularly went out for walks or some shopping in between the sessions. I also had a lot of fun in the fun sessions like doing bootcamp exercises for the first time in my live.
If I'd have to improve? I think I would add more exchanges about the projects on the ground. On the other hand, that would overload the schedule, so after all, it would look quite similar actually...What I would do is blend the fun sessions with the working sessions, because they were currently optional. It would have been good for the team building to have a larger group during these sessions.
Have you already discovered the breakout rooms in your webconferencing tools? Breakout rooms (also known as brainstorming rooms) allow participants of an online session to work in smaller groups. We often use this face-to-face. In smaller groups people are more active and can go deeper than in a plenary online group. You can also work in subgroups online. Breaking up in subgroups is possible in many web conferencing tools, such as Webex Training, Adobe Connect, Zoom, BigBlueButton etc. Breakout rooms are not for the starting online facilitator. During the breakout you lack have a view on your participants, you can get lost yourself, or you see people falling out of the breakout room. Not for the faint-hearted. Are the rooms dusting away with you? In this blog tips for smart use of your breakout rooms.
Let's start with a horror scene
We were looking forward to our pop-up webinar. About 10 minutes before the start we were packed with 100 participants! We were super enthusiastic and everything went well. After a start a presentation of principles and examples, groups of 8-10 participants started working in breakout rooms. Each group received the same case and a chat space was available for each group. We knew that not everyone had audio connected, so we encouraged them to use the chat. Soon we were called upon to help various groups. The chat was delayed in a group. People thought that the technology did not work. Another group thought it was scary to work with strangers without seeing them. Another group could understand each other, but no one took the lead. We decided to bring the groups back.
This example illustrates that breakout rooms are not the easiest feature for the online facilitator. It helps if you have already mastered the basics of your webconferencing tools and have tested the breakout rooms. I did not share this story to discourage you, but rather to show that you sometimes need the guts to try something new. There are so many possibilities for the breakouts.
The breakout at its best
Last week I organized a brainstorm with a group of 20 persons about the content of an online conference. In an online brainstorming wall I put up 5 groups with different topics, such as start session, partner sessions, fun, etc. Before the coffee I invited people to sign up for 1 topic by adding their name on the wall. During the coffee break I put people into groups. During the breakout they used the same brainstorming wall to add ideas that allowed me to monitor progress without going to the groups myself. We achieved an important result in 30 minutes. This was because everyone could choose their own topic for which they had many ideas, people already knew each other and thus immediately started brainstorming. Last but not least the combination of the breakout and the brainstorm wall worked well.
Having people in a group exchange about a question is perhaps the most obvious application. Just like you would face-to-face. If you want to be more creative, you might consider one of the following learning activities and working methods:
- A short buzz in groups of 2 to get into the subject
- Let participants dive into a topic in subgroups before you explain, so you can activate prior knowledge
- Speed dating to get to know each other. After 3 minutes you put people in the next group
- A brainstorm on a topic in combination with a whiteboard or a brainstorming wall
- Organize a debate in which they first come up with arguments in two groups (for and against)
- A translation of a presentation into practice
- A role play in subgroups where the chat is used in different colors by the different roles
- Make a drawing or collage together on the whiteboard
- A case study
- Discussion of a variety of topics. Participants choose their own topic that they want to work on (with some tools, people can choose which breakout they want to participate in or if that is not possible, you can inventory this)
- Give them a puzzle, a challenge to crack
- Or let participants prepare a (short) presentation themselves ...
Some practical tips
Above all, the mother of all advice is: don't be afraid to experiment with the breakouts. If necessary, you can invite your participants to experiment and reflect. Think about the context and how much support you need to provide for your participants. It is easier to work with breakouts when people already know each other. Then they will take the lead faster and get to work easily. If you expect that they sometimes hesitate to take the lead, you can appoint someone, eg the top one from the list of participants.
Here are some more practical tips if you want to get started.
- People fall out of the breakout (at least in Adobe this often happens!). Therefore, provide one person who can put these people back in their breakout group.
- Make a slide with the instruction. Even if you explain the assignment orally it helps to be able to read it.
- Plan a breakout after a break, so that it gives you time to prepare something.
- With a number of tools, participants can see the time that is left. If this is not the case, as a facilitator you can, for example, send people a message 3 minutes in advance about the time remaining.
- In most tools you can go to groups in between to listen / watch. This gives you an impression of what is going on.
Breakout rooms are not for the starting online facilitator. However, it is a fantastic invention! What are your favorite uses of the breakouts? What would you like to try?
The whole world is aiming at 'social distancing' As a facilitator, trainer are you going to cancel lessons and workshops or do you opt for online? It may sound challenging, but now is the time to try that online approach, or experiment more than you did before. We are all looking for ways to continue work and learning as well as possible. So take a stab!
The good thing: flipping your lesson or workshop is a creative process. Plus the flip can have advantages... Things that are difficult in a physical setting may work out better online. A good starting point is the question of what you want to do asynchronously online (each person in his/her own time) and synchronously online (together online at the same time). Brainstorm input, questions or experiences can be collected asynchronously in tools such as Flipgrid, Padlet, Answergarden or IdeaBoardz. You can offer theory through a video or short online lesson. Or you make a quiz with Quizzes or Mentimeter that each takes on its own time, which you then discuss at a synchronized moment. Tools for synchronous online are Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or a tool that is known within your organization. In addition, there are many tools that are less known with which you can create fun online lessons:
- Eduflow is free the coming months
- Google classroom is the free tool of Google. You can do a lot. A downside is that everyone should have a Google account.
- Blendspace for online lessons
- Blackboard collaborate for schools already working with Blackboard
- Edpuzzle for video lessons with quizzes. Here you will find an explanation
- Microsoft teams is also a good basic tool. Here you can learn more.
Ofcourse there are many more options.... We often use Ning
because of the social features.
A short checklist
- Do I flip my activity to online or postpone? Is there urgency to do it? Will participants have time and energy to do it online?
- What activities do you want to do online? Distinguish between activities with the whole group, subgroups and individually
- What do you want to do synchronously, what asynchronously? Look for a good balance
- Which toolset do you need? Think of a good synchronous tool (Skype, Zoom, Google meet etc) and good asynchronous tool (Ning, Microsoft Teams, Facebook for work etc)
- How long will your program last? Synchronous sessions max 1.5 hours
- What do you need to facilitate well? Think of help from others, scripts for the sessions, paid accounts, estimated time to prepare yourself
Example of a flipped sessionHere you find an example of a flipped work session with 10 organizations and about 5 participants per organization. The session was originally scheduled for an entire morning. The aim of the work session is to share experiences in work with disabled children. The idea is that people work on small products in groups. How is that possible online? We came up with the following form: The online work session lasts 2 to 3 hours and has a theme defined upfront.
- In the run-up to the session, we invite all participants to share an important experience with the theme on an online brainstorming wall like Padlet.
- When the session starts, we meet online in a webinar room (e.g. Adobe Connect).
- We get to know each other (name on map of the Netherlands, answer some light-hearted poll questions and interaction in chat) and make a substantive start by discussing the results of the online brainstorm.
- Then all participants work on the theme in small groups for half an hour. Each group gets its own online workspace and the chat is open to questions in between.
- With "screen sharing" we view each other's result. We briefly place two groups together in an online "room" to exchange and give each other feedback.
- At the end we harvest. We do this by collecting important insights and immediately processing them in an infographic. A tangible product at the end of this session.
I participated in the Masterclass Design thinking for learning designers by Connie Malamed
, organized by Anewspring. It was a nice experience to go through all design thinking steps in a structured way for a chosen case study. I had already experienced the value of working with personas
and prototypes, but not yet followed all design thinking steps in a structured manner. Our group made a design for managers of retail organizations to motivate employees to stay with the organization for longer (we made the objective smart ofcourse - 25% longer retention by the end of 2021 :).
What is design thinking and why is it interesting for designing blended learning?
Design thinking is an emerging trend to shape innovation in a creative way. Central is the experience of the customer / user. There are 5 steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Design thinking has long been used to design products. However, it is quite new to use design thinking for the design of learning interventions. The differences with "regular" design processes in my eyes are:
- Design thinking is "human-centered". Hardly a not a new element, because when designing a training or course, needs assessment is fairly standard practice when designing. Or designing together with the target group and stakeholders. Design thinking, however, offers specific tools such as personas and empathy maps.
- It is an iterative, creative process. Making a design in a day was great for a fast start, getting everyone on board and having the outline. After prototyping you will go back to the drawing table with the feedback on the prototype in your pocket. The iteration - refining, tweaking etc instead of sticking to decisions simply because they were made in the beginning is very appealing to me.
- Prototyping! This is something I will start to use more often. It seems more difficult to prototype a training than eg a new teapot. What I learnt is that you can be creative in prototyping: think of a mock-up of a new learning environment, an infographic, a video in which you explain the set-up, a role play between trainer and participant etc. The rapid prototypes ensure that you visualize your ideas. As Connie shared: with one client she hadn't made a prototype, and as a result people said very late in the process: oooooh now I understand what you were talking about! Without prototype it is very easy to talk, agree and have different understanding.
- There is a large toolkit with tools that you can apply. What makes me very happy is that it is not a blueprint approach, it is not prescriptive, you can choose the tools that fit your process.
My main take ways
Currently I discuss with content experts and teachers whether we have to do interviews or whether they know the target group. Connie does insist on the interviews with the target group. Although content experts sometimes know the target audience very well, there are always judgments and impressions that may be incorrect. An example is a group that appears to be digitally skilled, but may not have a sound card in their computers at work. This still has some consequences for your choices. I'm going to be stricter when organizations say there's no need to do interviews.
In addition, my biggest eye-opener was to create prototypes. What can you do to show and request feedback? In the session we had built a prototype of an online platform, and in the feedback it became clear that safety is very important. Safety to be able to practice with coaching conversations with employees. Super useful for quickly sharing your design and getting responses.
Curious about our design? Unfortunately I did not take a photo but it is a process where managers start with a study of the motivation factors by conversations with employees. Then there are face-to-face and online sessions. We conclude with gamification: prices for the branches with the longest-serving employees.
An interesting discussion in our group: would we have come up with something completely different if we had not gone through these steps? Maybe not. But now you know for sure that it is well thought out and I suspect that interviews give you a better sense of the learners' context. However, it also shows that the process does not guarantee a consistent design. It requires empathy for the design to fit reality well.
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