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Why educators should practice virtual facilitation

There are many paths to becoming a facilitator and it starts with a dedication to creating real transformation for students.

Last year around this time I made the decision to join Breakthrough Facilitation, the best way I know of to learn the skills needed to increase participation in virtual meetings, workshops, and courses.

If you read this in time… Gwyn is hosting a free workshop on September 7th 2023, The Exceptional Virtual Facilitation Workshop. To access, click the link at the top of the page here.

Facilitation is the future of Online Education

The era of self-paced video courses is coming to an end.

Even traditional educational environments are changing because of technology. It no longer makes sense to spend time in person going through a presentation students could watch at home. Teachers need to become facilitators in order to engage learning in the moment.

The results are in, friends – self-paced video courses aren’t effective. The majority of students simply don’t complete them. There’s a time and place, but for outcome based learning we need something different.

Workshops are the opposite – they engage and transform students on the spot.

When they do include recorded video it’s a flipped classroom. Students can watch a presentation in advance, then arrive in-person (or virtually) to process, solve problems, and work through the material.

What about you?

Are you teaching, working with clients, or running a group program?

If yes, then I hope you’ll check out Breakthrough Facilitation.

First I participated as a student, then I came back as an alumni mentor. Gwyn structured the program so alumni could gain even more practice and lead their own small practice groups – benefiting everyone.

Building skills for emergent workshop design

One of the most important parts of leading workshops is being flexible and knowing when to make a pivot to bring energy back into the room. I practiced this 10 years ago with Training for Change in their Training for Social Action Trainers workshop. We learned to diagnose group dynamics and choose activities in the moment to support a group in overcoming challenges. They called this emergent design, and in my mind it’s the mark of a true educator.

Instead of reading off slides it’s about grappling with the learning goals of the people in front of us.

For the past decade since I’ve been practicing practicing and practicing – because with practice comes confidence, and with confidence comes presence.

Being present enough to really listen to a group is one my main goals as a facilitator. And learning the tools and having a space to practice them is the surest way I know to get there. I’ve learned and practiced with two different training organizations; Training for Change, and Breakthrough Facilitation.

Improvised facilitation requires tools and frameworks

When we think of tools we usually think of software (Like Stream Alive), Supplies (Flip-boards, stickies, Markers), or exercises (Mingle, Breakout Groups, Listing). The most indispensable tools for facilitation are frameworks.

A framework is critical to having a repeatable system for planning and leading workshops. A workshop framework should account for the entire experience from start to finish.

The right tools and frameworks are the secret to running effective workshops that can also be flexible to the challenges that show up in the moment.

Creating Breakthrough moments

I joined Breakthrough Facilitation after learning about Gwyn Wansbrough and the self-assessment she created with Charlotte Crowther ( mysnapshot.co ).

This was the same time I was re-inventing our website accelerator, program Build Your Website Essentials to use a flipped classroom approach with more interaction.

The program is built around the Breakthrough Arc (below), and also uses a student assessment from mysnapshot.co – it’s these combined tools that finally gave me the confidence to plan sessions around outcomes for students.

The Breakthrough Arc framework

The Breakthrough Arc accounts for the entire experience a participant will have in a workshop. It’s a framework you can use to prepare, welcome, spark connection, give context, lead a meaningful activity, prompt reflection, support commitment, and close sessions with energy and inspiration.

Here’s Gwyn’s graphic representation.

The Breakthrough Arc, by Gwyn Wansbrough, Breakthrough Facilitation Program

Reading the program page for Breakthrough Facilitation is like a primer in the framework and how to implement it. I recommend you check it out here.

Start Facilitating!

I’ll leave you with some reflection prompts about what you can do next.

  • What ways will facilitation increase the value you give students?
  • What facilitation tools can you try in your next class or workshop?
  • What resources will help you develop your skills?

As you can tell, I’m glad I went through the program. One thing you can do is join the next Breakthrough Facilitation cohort while it’s open.

BF is the most accessible way to learn online facilitation that I know of.

Most other programs I know of require travel, previous experience, and cost a lot more to access. This is about as accessible at gets for a community-based course. You’ll meet others on a similar journey and get to practice your skills.

I’m still in touch with people I met in the program. If you join, I’ll see you there!

Do you want to talk shop? Do you have questions about BF?

Let me know. I’d love to connect.


Tags: curriculum design, online courses

Ryan Clover

Designer and founder of Maple Creative, providing technical wizardry for activists, educators, and small business owners who are out to change the world.