Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A new generation of tools for meeting and networking online

There is a new generation of tools that enriches the toolset of online facilitators. Wow. In this blog I will list a number of them and hope to make you enthusiastic to start experimenting. The first one I discovered was Wonder Me. The first time I used Wonder Me, I was amazed by the different way it made me feel and the freedom I experienced as compared to the normal webconferencing tools.  I felt I could "walk around" online by getting close to someone else and I could talk to him or her. A completely different online experience than a Zoom breakout room where you are 'put' in the breakout by the facilitator and hardly dare to leave (I did so today and it was not appreciated :).. If I had too compare it to a face-to-face experience I'd say it resembles the online version of a reception. Then I discovered that a number of nice new tools have been added. The common denominator seems to be that they are tools that change online networking: make it more visual and provide more freedom.

Wonder me

Wonder me is currently free and you can sign up to get your own Wonder room. However, it will come with paid plan at the end of next year. You can invite people to your own room, and customize the room by changing the background. Your photo is show in the room and can walk around by using your mouse. When you are close to a person or group your videos and audios will work. You can recognize a group of people already talking by a circle. So you can choose how long you stay in a group or walk further. The main facilitator can send a message to anyone, then all conversations will be silenced. You can also 'close' a circle to have a private conversation. The impressive thing is that it works for up to 1000 people, with a maximum of 15 in a circle.


Remo.co also gives a lot of control to the visitor to walk around. It is more structured than wonder.me due to its setup with tables with maximum 8 participants. You can choose which table you join, the people who sit at the table will hear a knock at the door. Full is full. You can also add a topic to the tables, so it lends itself well to a World Cafe format. You can try it for free for 14 days, after that it starts from 100 dollars per month.


Videofacilitator works in a slightly different way. You can actually organize speeddating in an easy way, by having people switch to the next person. It therefore gives less control for the participants to choose themselves. However, the feeling is different than in subgroups because you can also see the other groups. You can create a free account to try it out, after that it's $ 30 a month. It may be that there a more possibilities to use it since I only experienced the speeddating process. 

Spatial chat

Spatialchat can be used perfectly for an open space session. You can create different sub-spaces like rooms, and also prepare material for a room, such as a video. The maximum number of participants is 100. It is free up to 25 participants and 3 rooms. Then it starts from $ 49.95 per month


Another nice one is Topia. You can add a picture to your own space. Personally, I was not able to try Topia because I had to set a hardware configuration in my Chrome browser and Firefox is not supported. Maybe more for the future? Topia is free for up to 25 people, then $ 29 per month.. Anybody with experiences?


Gather is also making the videocall experience more visual. However, the design is somewhat reminiscent of the (old) world of the pacman. Free for 25 people. Nice that you can start a town, city or metropolis.


Getmibo is more for fun. As they phrase it on their website “for informal meetings, remote drinks, social mixers, networking events, or just hanging around”. You can walk around an island and your head is the webcam. Free up to 12 people, then 49 euros per month. Until recently, Getmibo was called Borrel. They have changed the name because it can also be used for more than just drinks, for example as a network option at an online conference.

These tools are a great asset to me. What they have in common is you have more freedom to "walk around" and meet each other online. They are more visual than Zoom, Webex or Microsoft Teams. You don't need a login and you can start a room. They are not going to replace the existing webconferencing tools, but they do provide opportunities to come together online in a different way and thus new possibilities for the online facilitator.

Added: hubhub

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Hybrid sessions: the new norm?

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!"

More tips?

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

My dream: facilitating a whole week online

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. 

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 (sprs.me)

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 Seppo.io

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. Seppo.io 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 Sepp.io. 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 Seppo.io. 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.