Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Creative facilitation with breakout rooms

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?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Tool and tips for the online flip

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 

  1. 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?
  2. What activities do you want to do online? Distinguish between activities with the whole group, subgroups and individually
  3. What do you want to do synchronously, what asynchronously? Look for a good balance
  4. 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)
  5. How long will your program last? Synchronous sessions max 1.5 hours
  6. 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 session

Here 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.  

  1. 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.
  2. When the session starts, we meet online in a webinar room (e.g. Adobe Connect).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Design thinking for blended learning

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. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Do you morph? About professional identity and the importance of doing new things

Judge Willem Korthals Altes (70 years old) is challenging his retirement. He gets an honorable pension because of his age but he doesn't want to stop at all. "My work is part of who I am," he says. The Dutch singer Rob de Nijs (76 years old) has Parkinson but is determined to finish his tour. After this a farewell tour, a CD and a farewell concert and then he intends to stop. Two examples of professionals who, in the words of Jef Staes, are "in sync with their talents". Working no longer feels like working. Suppose you have to give yourself a percentage between 0-100% for being in sync with your talents, what percentage would that be? And many of your colleagues?

The importance of morphing

Photo by Jack Leeder via flickr
Morphing is a gradual transformation into a new version of yourself (see morphing illustrated in the images). A colleague increasingly felt that her work was not important, got a burnout and decided to change the focus of her advisory work. During her burnout period, she has invested in a new direction by, among others. going to conferences. In this way she has found a different focus in her work and is currently capable of making more hours than before her burnout. Your focus and talent is not something you "know" at the end of your studies and work with until you retire. You must take steps in your professional development. Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School, analyzes the future of work. She calls for shaping your craftsmanship yourself: "create the space which will enable you to write a personal career script that can bring you fulfillment and meaning", but not only that: you have to move with the market and developments in your environment. She calls this “sliding and morphing.” The reason for morphing is two-fold: on the one hand the developments in the market, but also changes in your own interests.

How to morph? Keep on doing new things

How to morph as a professional? The Dutch writer Peter Ros gave me a number of ideas with his book Warorde. According to Peter preparedness for change is a learnable skill. Don't wait for a crisis until you change. Stimulate yourself (or colleagues) with new things. Consider for instance:
  • Work in a different place 
  • Change jobs regularly 
  • When self-employed: develop a new service or product 
  • Look for people who think differently (for example, if you work for the government, go and see a school) 
  • Start again from scratch: how should I do it now? 
  • Read blogs from dissenters 
  • Make an appointment with someone that annoys you 
  • Meditate 2 x 20 minutes every day 
  • Provide "fiddle time" 
  • Do something you never dared
  • Listen podcasts 
  • Travel to an unknown destination (

An example of staying prepared are the people in Netflix who developed a
chaos monkey A tool to derail the working of computers. A great way to challenge employees to get everything right again. Another example are de monkey milestones van AFAS. These are creative assignments for new people within AFAS. The name monkey apparently works well for shaking things up :).

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Tool of the month: game-based learning with

About 5 years ago I was brainstorming with a group of colleagues to design a workshop. Someone shouted: a traffic jam workshop!. I didn't have a clue what that was, but immediately had a vision of a workshop in the train to avoid the traffic jam. It has always stayed in my mind as something I would like to organize one day. A traffic jam workshop with a start in the train. But yes, it is difficult to organize this because there are always people who still want to get in the car.

Last year I found myself again in a brainstorm, but this time to organize the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Ennuonline. The traffic jam idea was tweaked. Not starting on the train but in groups at a different location and then have them walk via assignments to the place of the celebration. turned out to be perfect for this purpose.

How does Seppo work?

"Teach with a game. In a fun and easy way." That is the motto of You can create a treasure hunt by adding assignments at locations on the map. You can create different types of assignments:

  • A creative assignment in which participants share a photo, video, text or a spoken message
  • A multiple choice question
  • Enter a word in a phrase or an exercise where you have to match elements

The latter is more suitable for school assignments, so we mainly used the creative assignments. One of the assignments was for example: "convince the director of this building of the usefulness of technology in learning". Or: "exchange the weirdest response by a participants to the idea of online learning". Below you can see it was a day with a lot of wind: Beaufort 7.

What makes Seppo so great is that is it really easy to create assignments. When the groups start to walk you can see them walking online and monitor their progress live. You can set the assignments so that it opens when the group is within 50 meters of the place. This forces the groups to walk everywhere to be able to do the assignments. What is also fun is that you can see the groups walking. We first saw a small group go in the wrong direction. Tip: walk the route yourself at least once to test the instructions and place of the markers on the map and remove errors.

Seppo for learning

In this case, our goal was an energetic start and participants getting to know each other in small groups. Both were achieved! The tool is certainly also suitable for other purposes. Suppose you start a scavenger hunt and then have a face-to-face session. During the hunt you can invite participants to exchange on a topic and share the results during the search, as in the example of convincing the director. You can aggregate and show this afterwards and further analyze it. Which arguments will convince the most and why? After this you could also do a role play in which people practice again. The value of Seppo is in the stimulation of creativity and spontaneity. Do you also see other applications? It's nice if you share it in the comments because I definitely want to do more with Seppo.

Free or paid?

We used the paid version of You can also use it for free, but in that case you cannot use certain functions such as ask the groups to share photos and videos. An alternative to Seppo is Goosechase. You can use this for free up to 3 teams.