"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "E-learning"

Digital Learning in a Community of Practice (Part V of V)

Silence. Total silence.

It was after one of the highlights for me of the Digital Education Masters program through The University of Edinburgh. Two world experts in their field had been discussing their topic together in a Skype class, with the rest of us listening in from around the world. When they finished, we were asked for comments or questions. That’s when silence came. Eventually someone spoke up and expressed what I think we all were thinking. He described that after hearing these two experts talk at such a ‘mountaintop’ level, no-one dared bring it down again to ‘valley’ level. I concurred totally.

I learnt a lot that day. Not just on the topic, but on much, much more. I learnt how two respected members of a Community of Practice discussed their subject, how they queried each other, how they disagreed and how they interacted with those like us who were finding our feet within that community. It gave me something to aim for.

There are two approaches I have come across to learning and we did both that day. One approach is learning through knowing, usually of skills or concepts; the other is learning through becoming. The latter is about achieving the ability to communicate appropriately within the community associated with the discipline and acting according to its norms. It comes through engagement with its Community of Practice. It can be the case that in traditional classroom contexts, the body of knowledge, skills and attitudes are taught decontextualised from the practices to which they belong. How can including a digital aspect help address that?

  • One way is illustrated above, where experts interact about a topic online. This adds more to the teaching than one person talking about their topic. Those selected to converse can model how the community wishes to conduct itself. Of course, all of this need not be done digitally, but digital makes available experts not otherwise available. If digital is used, then the interaction doesn’t even need be live. However if it is done, it is a promising way to teach attitudes as well as knowledge about the discipline.
  • Another advantage of digital is also what some perceive as a drawback of digital. Teachers may feel that learners are less ‘present’ online compared to face-to-face; a learner less present online means they are more present elsewhere! A digital environment makes it possible to apply learning directly in the context in which it will be used, while being mentored by the social presence of an online community. It is akin to a traditional master-apprentice model of learning where the master encourages the apprentice to increasingly direct themselves. This can work for some topics though not necessarily all.
  • Another advantage of digital can help address a longstanding issue with classroom training, which can be hard to follow up afterwards. We have all done courses where we set the manual aside to come back to later, yet ‘later’ may never come. The 70-20-10 concept of learning holds that 70% of learning is through on-the-job experiences, 20% from interactions with others (both of these after the course), and only 10% from formal events such as classroom or digital training. Exact figures are debatable but the idea of a lot of learning coming after is not. As well as helping provide the 10% of formal training, digital can also help with the 20% of social interaction through such as online forums, and tools like short videos for mobile phones can help with the 70% on-the-job training.

Undoubtedly new issues come with digital, particularly if learning is within a fully digital community. One example is how to know how ‘lurkers’, who don’t take much part in online activities, are still ‘on board’ with learning? But in addressing such issues, it is good to keep in mind the bigger advantages above of making use of digital within a community of practice.

How can you use digital to integrate learners into a community of practice related to your topic?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate. This is the final of five posts in this series.

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).


The Power of Peer Review and Implications for Digital Learning (Part IV of V)

There were many challenges throughout my course. Electricity was intermittent. English, the language of communication, had varying levels of understanding among participants. But the biggest challenge was the cultural shift to a dialogue approach to learning; a big shift for many in other courses too, but even more so here. Yet over the week I slowly saw things start to change. It was 5 days of training for 12 participants, most were Ugandans. Many were community leaders coming from their towns or villages, learning how to best present content they cared about so that others would come to care as well. They were discovering adult learning principles and how to apply them, each to their own contexts.

I was most aware of the cultural challenge during the teaching practices. This was when everyone took a topic of choice and taught it to the rest of us using an adult learning approach, assisted by one other person from the group. Right after that came feedback; firstly by themselves and then from their peers. One cultural challenge was moving from monologue to dialogue teaching but another was in them becoming comfortable with the process of peer review. Should the teacher not be respected as the expert, there to impart their knowledge? Would questioning them like this not seem like challenging their authority? What if the teacher was also their work manager?

I was impressed by progress they made with peer review. After the first pair taught, feedback from participants was scant, but slowly, with lavish encouragement, it increased as later pairs taught. I was aware that as well as any overt learning going on, much hidden learning was happening too, something backed up by the research into peer review. Here are ways I saw it happening:

  • Feedback given to one pair was used later by other pairs when making their own presentation. One example was feedback about putting instructions in written form (rather than just verbal) – later pairs started to do this without being told! Participants not only gave feedback to others, but were comparing it with their own presentation and making changes appropriately. They were developing skills to generate feedback about the quality of their own work.
  • There was a mix of weak and strong presentations. Seeing a range of samples helped them develop criteria for judging whether or not a presentation was good. To avoid being harmfully critical about weaker ones, we gave ground rules on giving and receiving feedback, which helped. In early presentations, staff modelled these. Skills for learning how to be constructively critical are of use long after the course ends.
  • The quality of peer review varied a lot. This meant that participants had to make a choice on how useful it actually was. They had to decide which to keep and which to discard, so they were learning how to evaluate feedback. Again, this is a good skill to have when we receive many opinions about the work we do.

Each of these skills gained was of use well beyond our course. Research shows that teachers develop these skills through assessing the work of their students. Students need to be given similar appraisal experiences build these skills and this is done through providing peer review opportunities for them. I have become more conscious since to provide these where I can when designing training.

You may be convinced by peer review but what does it mean for digital training?

There is absolutely no reason why peer review cannot happen within classroom training. The strength of digital is in helping it to happen. Digital enables work to be reviewed and shared more easily among participants and maybe also more ecologically. Work submitted for review need not be near the final product; it can be a rough plan or at draft stage, which makes feedback immediately useful and so become formative in learning. Using media such as discussion forums or a class wiki means review comments can come over a longer period, which allows comments become more reflective. Digital also enables a wider variety of people to review, not just demographically but also internationally, leading to a richer range of insights given. One highlight for me of my Digital Education Masters studies was learning first-hand, ways in which Swedish education worked differently to what I was familiar with.

By the end of the week in Uganda, we were pleased to see that participants could analyse and be constructively critical of each other’s training and recognise good training. These were skills they would be able to use long thereafter.

How can you integrate peer review into training that you provide – either classroom or digital?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).


Digital Training – Enabling Better Discussion? (Part III of V)

One participant came to speak to me about how the training session had been for her. At this early stage as a trainer, I had thought it had been good, but I listened. I had engaged participants with the content and had facilitated good discussion, either in small groups within the class or sometimes as a whole class.

“I am an introvert…” she said, “and I find it really hard to go from learning about a topic to talking about it almost right away with other people, even in small groups. I need time to reflect before I talk to others.”

Since then I have sought to give more reflection time in classroom sessions but this always has limits. It is hard to balance reflective time with time for participants to speak in class, either sharing their experience or asking thought-provoking questions. Facilitation inevitably involves keeping an eye on the clock. Keeping time for coffee break conversation is also important for learning!

How can digital learning do better? There are two ways I see that digital can help; one is fairly familiar and to be expected; the other perhaps less so. First of all, the familiar one…

Discussion forums are commonly used within digital training. This means that as well as synchronous discussion, with comments interconnecting as in a classroom, it is also possible to have asynchronous discussion, where comments are posted on a forum to be viewed or responded to after they are made. This helps not only introverts, but also others who wish to reflect further before posting, and helps lead to a richer discussion. There is a place for both synchronous and asynchronous discussion, and digital enables both. Each has different strengths, asynchronous for reflective discussion and synchronous for high energy to stimulate exploratory discussions or brainstorming or motivating those on the margins.

But there are also other advantages to discussion forums. Sometimes in a classroom, a fruitful conversation can occur informally after a class between a staff member and a student. I have seen and experienced this personally. But if it is face-to-face, the benefit to everyone else is lost unless summarised and shared widely with others later. Conversely, I have been in tutorial groups where a topic discussed is not relevant to me, yet there is no easy escape! Digital forums display each conversation to be selected as desired. It is thus possible to choose which ones to join and contribute to, and equally, which to ignore. One big advantage to discussion forums is in connecting learners who are drawn to the most appropriate topics, both to learn from and to contribute to.

The other way that digital enables reflective conversation is with digital documents. Digital significantly changes the nature of documents beyond convenience. With comments from readers enabled, the nature of a document changes significantly in at least two ways when made digital. For example, I found a recipe for Irish soda bread online but I not only read the recipe but also the comments below. Contributors suggested maybe more of one ingredient or less of another. Some readers added a surprise ingredient and told of subsequent results! This made the recipe no longer static, as it would be in a book, but that it was made alive by the community of contributors. A second change with digital is that while the authority of a book typically comes from the writer or publisher (such as a Delia Smith recipe in the UK!), with digital it comes from the acceptance of its readers.

Thus, digital forums and comments on online documents are both ways to enable asynchronous discussion among learners. This will result in a more reflective and so, more rewarding conversation.

How can digital enable better opportunities for discussion for your learners?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).


Addressing the Uniqueness’s of Learners – Does Digital Really Help? (Part II of V)

I could sense around me that I was losing my learners. It was during an early experience of me training them to use software to help with language learning. But these learners had very different levels of experience of using software and while I was helping some who struggled to stay alongside, others already experienced were drifting into different worlds drawing them online. As a teaching staff, we eventually arrived at an approach to accommodate the full spectrum of learners and this worked well. Yet as trainers, we all face the issue of enabling all of our learners to learn, not just those in one part of the spectrum of abilities or experience within a class; and as well as this spectrum, other spectra will exist, such as the ability of non-‘mother tongue’ speakers in the language of instruction. How do we handle these and can digital really help?

Maybe the best known aspect of digital learning is that of the flipped classroom, using digital to deliver content out-of-class and so enabling learners to engage more fully with it in class. Having a digital aspect means that learners who are less experienced can take more time to learn in their own time, while those with more make do with less. It can also accommodate those with different ‘mother tongue’ languages, using subtitles for example. The VARK model sees learning as including Visual, Auditory, Read-write and Kinaesthetic approaches to learning and digital can also accommodate all of these; a read-write approach has dominated digital historically but these other approaches can be provided for too – video and podcast enable visual and auditory approaches, and e-learning authoring software can for kinaesthetic learning to some extent. Providing variety for learners however is not the sole criterion in connecting specific media with certain course content. But that is a topic for another time.

One other helpful aspect of digital for learners is so familiar that it can easily be overlooked – hypertext. We come across it as the (often underlined and in blue) computer text that links to other information by clicking on it. One challenge in classrooms when introducing a topic is deciding how much we can assume learners already know around a topic. It is likely that for some, they do not know as much as we thought and we leave it to them to catch up later, while others know more and so must listen patiently to hearing it again. Hypertext helps address this; if introductory content is written using hypertext, then learners in a flipped classroom can choose to read exactly what they need in order to better know the topic.

However hypertext also helps in accommodating how different learners learn. Linear learners prefer to learn in sequential steps, with each step following logically on from the former; classroom learning with its fixed space-time dimension easily enables this. Non-linear (or global) learners by contrast, tend not to ‘get it’ until they see the whole structure and how its parts work together. Classroom learning can accommodate this but hypertext helps. One creative example I have come across (and partly done myself) is where content was presented through a website based on the theme of a mansion. Learners clicked on different ‘rooms’ (each representing a page on the website) and experienced certain content within each ‘room’, thus enabling a more non-linear way of learning. Admittedly this is technically more advanced and only works with certain content, but even basic hypertext can help make learning a less linear experience.

As well as advantages, there are clearly also challenges with a flipped approach. One challenge is how content can still be presented interactively when taken out of a classroom context. One common way is through discussion forums, which I will consider in a later blog posting. Another is the online quiz, which helps learners know they have assimilated key knowledge, but only by interacting with a computer rather than with colleagues. Ways I have encountered to make it more interactive include following up quiz results with tutorial content or having learners create quizzes and answers for each other. Another challenge is how learning is structured. Four questions I focus on in designing learning are akin to: “Why do learners need to know this?” “What do they then need to know?” “How can they know it works?” and “What can it become for them?” In classroom contexts this works well but since the space-time dimension of learning is significantly disrupted by digital, creativity is needed in order to keep a similar structure of learning. Solutions will vary depending on the learning situation.


How can these digital aspects best enable better learning for your learners?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

Peter Tate is self-employed as an adult education consultant for Brainy Training Solutions and recently finished designing Financial Management training for the WaterAid charity. Previously he worked as a training designer for Hope Consultants, a UK-based international development organisation, where he created Dialogue Education-type training from existing video monologue content, and then prepared it for digital format. This was alongside study for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University, learning how to implement a Dialogue Education approach in online environments.

Digital Training – Inevitable yet Inferior? (Part I of V)

One of my great passions in life is using adult education theory to create learning-centered training – working out how learners can best learn so they then go on to flourish. A significant addition to this in recent years is digital education, to which there are mixed reactions among facilitators and learners. For facilitators, there can be a sense of loss around diminished (or maybe even non-existent) face-to-face contact with learners, with loss of visual cues for assessing levels of engagement and comprehension. There may also be a feeling of reduced sense of community with digital learning. This sense of loss will be increased if the motivation for digital is extrinsic, maybe to try to cut costs or to make the training available to a wider reach of people. It could also be an attempt to make it appealing to ‘digital natives,’ those who have grown up not knowing anything other than being surrounded by technology. These factors can easily leave facilitators (and learners) feeling that digital is inevitable yet inferior.

Is this a fair conclusion?

Comparing classroom with digital like this can be like comparing apples with oranges, and concluding that oranges are inferior to apples because they lack certain apple-like qualities. Yet this is not a fair comparison since it overlooks unique intrinsic qualities of the orange. Equally, qualities of digital can be overlooked even though they have the potential to implement a learning approach that addresses longstanding issues in adult educational. Of course, unlike apples and oranges, classroom and digital is a spectrum, from fully classroom, through to classroom with a digital wraparound, to digital with residential components and finally on to fully digital. Strictly speaking, even a classroom course using PowerPoint presentations is partly digital education. The challenge is to see how a learning-centered approach can be implemented and even enhanced in each of these contexts.

But, should we be talking about digital education at all?

Recently I heard a debate on BBC Radio UK about this with the argument being that in classroom contexts we don’t talk of learners experiencing ‘pen learning.’ This is a valid point. Ultimately, it’s about learning and both digital and pen are ways in which to achieve this. However, since the digital component has a significant effect on how we answer our key design questions when developing training, I will continue to use the term in future posts in order to indicate its presence. It may be though that if a digital component becomes expected in future learning solutions then the ‘digital education’ term will indeed no longer be needed.


How do you primarily think of digital in the context of training – a sense of loss or a sense of gain?


Peter Tate is self-employed as an adult education consultant for Brainy Training Solutions and recently finished designing Financial Management training for the WaterAid charity. Previously he worked as a training designer for Hope Consultants, a UK-based international development organisation, where he created Dialogue Education-type training from existing video monologue content, and then prepared it for digital format. This was alongside study for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University, learning how to implement a Dialogue Education approach in online environments.

A Day with Less (or No!?!) Technology?

What if you wrote a letter with paper and pen instead of sending an email?  How would it change the "conversation" if you picked up the phone instead of emailing or texting?  

I recently interviewed a woman for a radio program I host once a month. She is a poet and lifelong activist in her early 70's who does not own a computer or a cell phone.  She has a telephone with no answering machine or voice mail.  She writes letters by hand and writes her poetry in the same way.  

Consider this weeklong challenge, launching February 2nd: WNYC’s New Tech City Launches “Bored And Brilliant”.

We are using technology to connect globally.  I Skype with people in Crimea and the Czech Republic.  My granddaughter stays in touch with her dad via Skype.  I have a Facebook friends from around the world.  

It is good, but is it ALL good?  

What would a day, even an hour, be like in your life and work if you turned off all the technology?

A challenge for Dialogue Education practitioners in honor of Bored and Brilliant week:

Adapt an activity you already use that involves technology to become low or no tech.  Share your ideas and reflections in the comments section below. 


Fran Weinbaum is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner, life coach, and consultant.  You can find out more about her work at http://www.vermontwildernessrites.com/

Beta, Baby!

By Marian Darlington-Hope and Karen Ridout

The Internet increasingly provides a multitude of tools that provide opportunities for learning. At the Building Learning Communities Conference a few years ago, the title of one presentation declared “It’s no more Best Practices, it’s Beta, Baby.” We are all in Beta mode as we discover and explore these tools to support our learning designs

As Dialogue Educators, you are already familiar with the value of learning tasks in small groups. Once the learning task is set and clear to all, we see the dynamics at work in a small group—where the learning happens! Online learning tools enable group learning tasks to draw on the strength of different learning styles present in the group just as dialogue education practices do in face-to-face groups. These web-based tools have made it possible for all of us to make the internet work for us as individuals, groups and organizations.

Blooms Taxonomy updated and adapted for the digital world is useful in structuring learning tasks. The attached diagrams show the possibility for a range of useful and wonderful web tools, but without an Achievement-Based Objective for using a particular tool or set of tools, you may miss enhancing the learning.

As we consider dialogue—dia-logos, the word between us—these tools enable us to integrate sight and sound honoring the different learning styles in our teaching by intentionally including them as an integrative whole. Tools vary, some of them are designed to assist you in presenting content in new ways while others assist you in the creation process and allow you to share your process more transparently.

Remember—the tools you choose must enhance the learning!

(Click on either of the pictures below to pull up interactive charts directly from the creators' websites.)

12 Detailed Tips for Wondrous Webinars

Webinars offer a great alternative to holding face-to-face workshops as they save the costs and carbon associated with travel. However, they can easily become a sleep-inducing monologue in which a disembodied voice drones over a hypnotic barrage of never-ending PowerPoint slides. 

Meanwhile, the participants, their identities hidden by their remote connection, may be tempted to check out, finish that email (“clackity clackity clack!”) and/or update their Facebook status.

So to make your next webinar a wondrous learning experience, try incorporating these 12 Tips for Wondrous Webinars:

1.  Understand What Your Webinar Platform Can (and Can’t) Do

Before you get started, be sure to understand what your particular webinar platform can and can’t do.

Currently, all webinar platforms should allow you to share online visuals like PowerPoint presentations, and audio feeds via an integrated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or over a separate phone line. Some webinar platforms also allow you to broadcast a live video feed of the presenters, and perhaps even video of the learners. But in many cases you may find that the bandwidth restrictions of your participants’ connections will limit the quality of the picture.

Also be sure to see if your webinar platform lets you:

  • use on-screen collaborative tools like whiteboards, chat boxes and polling tools;
  • install third-party “apps” to incorporate additional features like interactive-maps, Twitter feeds, and external web pages; and/or
  • assign participants to breakout groups with their own video and audio feeds – perfect for small group work.

2.  Do Your Homework Before the Webinar

Before you get started, be sure to conduct a basic survey with the participants who will be in your webinar, their prior experience with the topic, and what they need to learn. At Global Learning Partners, we call this conducting a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) to determine what the participants already know and what they need to learn. For a webinar, an LNRA can include asking a few questions on the registration form, or visiting the websites of the participants’ organizations. Look for any “generative themes” or ideas and challenges that come up frequently that might create energy or engagement for the participants. However, keep the number of questions in proportion to the length of the webinar or course.

Remember that the motivation levels of the participants in webinars can sometimes be lower than in face-to-face learning situations since their investment to attend is low (and perhaps because their expectations of learning during webinars are also low). As well, the anonymity of the experience means that people may multi-task during the webinar and not devote their full attention to what you are saying

If you can't conduct a full LNRA, at least review the registration list beforehand so you can get a sense of who is taking part in the webinar. Share this list with the presenters. Check out their organization’s websites or their blogs to see what they do. Choose examples and stories that speak to their sector or where they work. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

The LNRA is also a great time to invite the learners to do some advance preparations. When you send out the webinar log-in details, consider sending to the participants a short pre-webinar reading (e.g. a short article, a link to a website they might review) so those who are keen can work ahead.

Provide a couple of good open questions for them to consider and revisit these questions during the webinar (but do so in a way that doesn’t exclude those who didn’t do the pre-work).

3.  Create a Well-Structured Learning Design for Your Webinar

Too often I see webinar presenters being lazy and just crafting a PowerPoint slide deck without thinking about all of the parameters that frame the choice of content and activities. At Global Learning Partners, we like to think of this as 8  Steps of Design. Instead, be sure to:

  • Define the People, Purpose, Place, and Time (Steps 1-5) for your webinars. Review this with the participants at the outset in order to keep you, your co-presenters and the participants on track.  
  • Include a Reasonable Amount ("just enough") of Content (Step 6). As with PowerPoint, it is tempting to "dump" too much data into the slides and overwhelm your participants. Keep it simple and not too full. (Download a free chapter about choosing just the right content - from the e-book Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.)
  • Keep your Presentations Short. Don’t go for more than 5 minutes at a stretch without asking for questions or asking the participants a question. Breaking a longer presentation into smaller chunks with breaks will help to revitalize the group energy, check for understanding and allow more voices to be heard. It will also allow you to pause and recharge, since presenting to silence can be de-energizing.
  • Create Achievement-Based Objectives (Step 7) that describe what the participants will do during the webinar beyond just "listening" and "watching". Think of ways that they can be more active participants to deepen their own learning (e.g. analyze, name, suggest, reflect, tweet…).
  • Create a Series of Learning Tasks (Step 8) or instructions that describe how the participants can engage with the content to meet each objective.

Build in opportunities for interaction as permitted by the size of the group and the technology. These can include:

  • Preceding every presentation with an open question to the participants. Post this question on a slide. For example, “As you listen to this short presentation on <your topic>, consider how you’ve seen these principles in action.” Be sure to ask them for a sample of their ideas after your presentation.
  • Taking a poll or a multiple choice quiz.
  • Asking participants to “raise their hands” in response to a question using the “raise hands” tool on the webinar platform.
  • Soliciting their questions for clarification, and their comments. 
  • Asking open questions to the group and hearing a sample of their responses (e.g. "How have you seen this problem play out in your situation?"). 
  • Using the platform’s whiteboard and inviting them to add their answers on screen. 
  • Incorporating an interactive map where the participants can show their location.

4.  Assemble a Webinar Team

As they say, there is no ‘I’ in Team but there certainly is a WE in Webinar.

If possible, never webinar alone! 

  • Try to have a moderator, facilitator and a presenter on the call. The moderator can focus on the technology, the facilitator on the flow, time, questions, etc. and the presenter on the content.  
  • Meet as a team before the webinar to discuss what you’re expecting in terms of amount of content, duration of presentations, transitions between sections, participant interaction, slide quality, etc. Also, make sure that everyone is comfortable with the webinar platform technology before the session begins.
  • Practice your presentations ahead of time on the webinar platform to make sure that any transitions between presenters are smooth. You’d be surprised by how many kinks there can be, and how many things change after you’ve tried them out once. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

5.  Technology: Be Prepared

Unlike in most face-to-face learning situations, managing the technology in a webinar can be a major pre-occupation for the learners and the presenters. Too often, too much time is wasted trying to resolve one person’s audio or computer problems while the others wait on the line. Instead:

  • Test out the technology ahead of time to make sure that it is working well. Be aware the same webinar platform can work quite differently each time and with different internet connections.
  • Provide clear instructions to the participants and any offsite presenters before hand in an email on:
    • testing their computer for compatibility – most webinar platforms provide this capability
    • how to use the webinar technology
    • how to contact you via a separate phone line or text message 
    • how to log in again if they get bumped off for some reason.  
  • Be “on the line” and platform early to make sure it works, and to greet those participants who come on line early.
  • Include a series of preliminary slides with instructions on setting the sound, any other programs they may need to run, and how they can ask questions.

6.  Prepare Vivid Visuals

In an online setting where the participants may not be able to see the presenter or have an opportunity to interact, the visuals become critical. (Check out our 6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue.)

  • Invest more time than usual in creating high-quality presentation materials, even more than you might in a live setting where participants have other people to engage with. Choose compelling images, keep the text clear and minimal, and make sure that the formatting (titles, headers, spacing, etc) is flawless. 
  • Use on-screen slides with basic visuals and little or no animation so that people with slower bandwidth connections won’t experience a delay in the transitions. Alternatively, you can simulate animation by repeating key graphics on distinct slides and adding in changes on each slide.
  • If possible, have a separate display where you can see what the participants are seeing. (Source: Levey) This will let you know if the slides are running more slowly on participants’ machines or if they can’t see a feature you assume they can see (e.g. questions box). I like to log in to a participant account on my iPad so I can see what participants are seeing. 
  • Consider an alternative to using PowerPoint slides  (e.g. Prezi Meeting now allows multiple participants to follow and modify a Prezi online). There are also online mind-mapping tools and other data visualization platforms that you can use as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. Just be aware that bandwidth limits may make the animation run more slowly than you'd like.   
  • If you do have a webcam for the presenters, be sure to stay in frame, still and in focus! Test out the “depth of field” or range of focus for your webcam, as well as how far you can move from side to side before you’re out of the frame. Check out the background to eliminate distractions (e.g. people walking past your cubicle, visual clutter, bright windows that will backlight you).
  • Change slides frequently to keep the visuals moving and fresh.

7.  Get Off to A Good Start

The first few moments of a webinar can make or break it for the participants. So be sure to:

  • Assume that you may start a few minutes late as some participants may come in gradually (Source: Stephen Boyd).
  • In the meantime, you can use the time to chat with the participants (i.e. to get to know them and maybe even conduct a mini-LNRA) or address any administrative issues.
  • Include a slide that has a picture of the presenters, facilitators and moderators, along with their contact information. This will give them an image to keep in mind when listening to your voice. 
  • For smaller groups (< 10), start with a quick go-round or roll call to introduce the participants to each other. But – very important! -- be sure to set clear guidelines for how (and thus how long) participants should introduce themselves. For example, “Please share your name, and where you’re calling from” and then model it yourself “My name is Dwayne and I’m calling from Ottawa”. 
  • For larger groups (> 10), spoken introductions may not be practical, but you may be able to circulate a participant list by email in advance of the webinar.
  • Refer to your guests as “participants” to set the tone that they are there to actively be involved in the learning, not to veg out.
  • Provide a simple outline of the webinar at the beginning of the presentation that shows the topical program of learning tasks. Refer to this outline repeatedly during the session so that people can check their progress. Consider using a graphic (e.g. a “you are here” arrow) that marks where you are in the program and show a slide that indicates that progress periodically throughout the webinar. 

8.  Sound Advice: Get the Audio Right

  • Encourage everyone to use a headset  to avoid feedback and to prevent their microphones from capturing ambient noise (e.g. keyboard clatter, ticking clocks, Farmville chickens clucking).
  • Ask people to switch their microphones or phone lines to mute when not speaking. In some cases you can do this for them via a setting in the webinar program. 
  • Vary your tone of voice and enunciate a bit more than you might in a face-to-face situation.  As Stephen Boyd writes, "Your voice is everything with the webinar. Show enthusiasm in your voice from the very beginning. Punch out key words, pause for effect, create variety in vocal quality, speed up, slow down, and don’t speak too rapidly.” (Source: Stephen Boyd)
  • Be careful not to use “pause words” like um, like or you know.  When people can’t see you in person, these phrases become even more noticeable and annoying. Similarly, pay attention to whether you have any unusual vocal inflections (e.g. mumbling, speaking too quickly, raising your voice like everything is a question). Listening to a recording of yourself can be quite instructive (and frightening).
  • Do not read your slides verbatim. People tend to read faster than you can speak, and they will wonder why they had to attend if all you’re doing is reading the slides. Two exceptions:
  1. It is all right to read a definition or a quote for effect.
  2. If you are setting a learning task, keep your verbal instructions closely related to any text on the screen so as not to confuse the participants.  

9.  Share the Airspace: Giving Voice to Learners

Webinars can be so much more than PowerPoint on the phone. Where you can, try to build in opportunities for genuine interaction and dialogue:

  • Design opportunities for large group discussions, small group work (if possible), and individual reflection (great for introverts!).
  • Frame each mini-presentation with an open question that invites the learners to listen and watch more deeply. 
  • Leave enough time for questions throughout the webinar, rather than cramming in a few token questions at the end. 

If letting the participants use their audio line is too complicated (i.e. for larger groups, or if there is simultaneous interpretation), consider using a parallel communication channel to solicit questions and their comments (e.g. the chat box, or Twitter).

10.  Build in Movement 

As more and more webinar platforms start producing apps for smartphones, the potential for mobile webinar learning is growing. (Check out 35 Ways to Use an iPhone in a Workshop.) Consider inviting the learners who are mobile to engage in a more kinesthetic, or active-movement task:

  • Stretch at the half-time point to get the blood flowing again -- maybe a little yoga to get the energy back up. 
  • Take a walk while listening and watching the webinar on their phones.
  • Go out and find an object that symbolizes their involvement with the topic and share that with the group (perhaps via a photo on their smartphone).

Any opportunity to get their "bums out of their seats" will also be appreciated by those who are participating on a computer or laptop.

11.  End Well

Time for the Big Finish!

  • Design your webinar to use less than 100% of the time you have in case something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. But always finish on time so that people can leave gracefully. (Levine)
  • At the end of the webinar, invite the learners to name what they will apply to their work situation after the seminar. For example, “Use the chat line and name one thing that you’ve seen or heard today that you’ll apply to your work soon.” This encourages them to synthesize what they've seen and heard with their real world context. 
  • Design any feedback questionnaire to be proportionate to the length of the session and the depth of engagement (i.e. don’t send a questionnaire with 10 questions for a 1-hour webinar).  You can either send a short online survey as part of your follow-up materials or, better yet, conduct a very short anonymous poll about the webinar at the end of the session before they sign off.
  • If some participants want to stay on the line to chat, great, but also consider calling them back after the webinar (to save money and to keep their conversation private). You can also help them connect with each other if they want to continue a conversation offline later.

12.  Follow-Up Afterwards

But wait! there’s more! The webinar doesn't end when the last person hangs up. Consider what you can do afterwards to support their learning: 

  • Follow-up with supplemental material (via an individual or group email) immediately after the webinar (or at least by the next day) before the participants turn their attentions elsewhere. Send them some additional resources via email to respond to any emergent learning needs. 
  • Assign a follow-up task via an asynchronous platform. Invite them to participate in a follow-up forum discussion after the webinar via an online platform.  
  • Post a recording of the audio and visuals of the webinar online for them to review later. 
  • Remind them of the next webinar that you're providing. 

Your Thoughts

What would you add to this list of tips? What challenges do you foresee in applying any of these ideas in your context? Drop us a line and feel free to ask us about how GLP can help you design wondrous webinars using a Dialogue Education approach to learning.

Consider joining us for Dialogue Education Online, September 11 - November 12, 2014.


5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks

This post is the third in a series of three posts on e-facilitation, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Read the other posts in this series: 6 Core Principles, Virtually! and 3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation.

Creating team tasks are a real learning design challenge. At DynaMind e-Learning we spend a lot of time on brainstorming, writing and fine-tuning team tasks for every e-workshop we develop. It’s worth the effort. Well-designed tasks add so much value to the learning experience and to the depth in which learning outcomes are achieved. Team tasks keep learners interested and engaged .

1. Apply problem-based learning principles:  the focus is on “doing”

There is a clear distinction between case-based learning and problem-based learning. Whereas in case-based learning the problem scenario comes with a reading list and a list of questions to answer and discuss, problem-based learning starts with only a problem scenario .

In e-workshop team tasks I don’t ask questions, I ask for a solution. The questions are therefore asked, answered and discussed by the learners as they work on the open-ended complex  problem. Problem-solving is a natural process and it feels real.

I find that online, problem-based learning works much better than case-based learning. Problem-based learning is a total approach rather than a method and provides an excellent fit with adult learning principles .

2. Get your inspiration from real life

I go out of my way to find messy and tough problems that people face in the workplace. Then, together with a subject-matter expert, I build scenarios based on these problems.

The task needs to give plenty of opportunity for decision making. And – this is an important point – there need to be different perspectives on how to solve the problem. This is when team work becomes interesting. That’s when people will also draw from their own experiences and where “sharing” becomes meaningful.

What does this look like?  Here are two examples:

ONE:  Take a performance management e-workshop for a group of supervisors. If they all come from the same or similar sector, make sure your scenario is one taken right from their workplaces. If not, write a more general one that inspires people across different sectors .  Come up with a fictional organization with fictional characters – all sorts of characters, those who are easy to manage and a few who are more difficult. Just like in real life. Write a complex story. Ask teams to do what it is they should be doing: identify desired outcomes, clarify expectations using the language of standards, agree on outcomes statements, script the conversations in which the manager would communicate these, script examples of genuine praise the manager should give the staff regularly, and so on and so on.

TWO:  Or take a project management e-workshop with the aim of building budgeting skills. Again, get right into the real world and describe a project in detail, provide the project document, describe the environment, give the tools and get your teams to work it out. This is how they build the experience in a safe environment, one where it’s OK to make mistakes and one where they learn from others while they are trying to figure out how to develop a budget. They will also get plenty of feedback from the e-facilitator. This is a perfect dry-run for the real thing and very engaging for any professional.

3. Define a clear real-life deliverable

What are real-life deliverables? Ask yourself - what do we do at work? We write emails, draft plans, craft checklists, prepare presentations, write job descriptions, propose budgets, draft one-page briefings, prepare responses, complete forms, etc.

So   – as a learning designer –  unpack this work and have a very close look at all the tangible deliverables that are produced at work. This is your starting point. This is what learners need to “do”. Make sure it’s a manageable deliverable for online teams: a 5 page report isn’t, but a job description is.  Short and crisp is key !

Stay away from asking for a discussion. Discussion is a means to an end. The “end” is a suggested solution of the real-life problem. In the process of getting there, there is a lot of discussion. It doesn’t feel contrived – it feels real because there is a purpose .

Likewise, stay away from assignments that have a “course” flavor. If the deliverable isn’t produced in a workplace somewhere out there, then I believe it should not be a team task in an e-workshop either.

TIP:  To make the approach extra clear to the e-workshop participants, re-name your “discussion forums” as “work spaces.”

4. Design for collaboration rather than cooperation

Collaboration, not cooperation:  the difference is subtle, but important.

Cooperating means working with someone in the sense of enabling, typically by providing information they wouldn’t otherwise have. When online learners are asked to share their experiences or answer questions posted in a forum, that’s cooperation. Most online courses are cooperative, even though they are often labeled to be collaborative.

Collaborating is much more active. “Labore,” from which the word collaboration derives, means work. It means actually working alongside someone  to achieve an agreed outcome. This may involve changing our own individual approaches. Differing views may require negotiation to ensure all team members “own” this outcome.

Collaborative learning requires higher thinking skills than cooperation. Collaborative learning is connected to the social constructivist view that knowledge is a social construct. I believe true collaborative learning achieves much deeper learning. Learners talk about being “hooked” and “addicted” to logging in every day to check on progress made by their team.

This is what I’m aiming at when designing team tasks to be truly collaborative – getting learners deeply engaged and inspired.

5. Craft crystal clear instructions

Nothing is more off-putting than having to work hard to find out what you need to do and where you need to do this. The task should be simple to understand yet the problem challenging to solve .

So I make sure the e-workshop participants find their way immediately when they start a new session with a team task: here is the story, this is what you need to do (explained in clear, short sentences, step-by-step), here is the team you belong to, this is the deadline, and here are the tools you need to use to work in your team.

TIP:  Once tough and engaging team tasks have been designed, it is important to hire e-facilitators who have been trained in supporting this approach online. The required abilities are different from traditional online tutoring skills.

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage: anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani: valerie@globallearningpartners.com


3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation

This post is the second in a series of three, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Read the other two posts in this series:  6 Core Principles, Virtually! and 5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks.


I have made a living facilitating learning since I boarded a plane to Guinnea-Bissau in 1986. That’s nearly 30 years! So I have to admit I was a bit surprised at how much I learned about facilitation when my friend and colleague, Anouk Janssens-Bevernage, invited me into her online e-facilitation course recently.

As I reflected on my learning experience, I drew out three insights that might stretch and bolster your own facilitation.

1. Give People Time to Think before Contributing.

Many of you are jazzed by Susan Cain’s recent work on introversion. So much more than I ever did, I now appreciate the value of giving people time to think before asking them to share their thoughts. It is not just “introverts” who need this. We all do.

In an entirely asynchronous environment, learners get permission and space to step away and contemplate something - deeply - before sharing what they think or feel. A learner can easily log-in, read a resource, contemplate it, go for a walk, do some other work, keep it in the back of her mind, and then post some thoughts. Neither the facilitator nor other participants are staring her down, waiting immediately for her to share her brilliance. The clock isn’t asking her to say something smart, or take a position, before the task is over.

It’s good to cut time-pressures from our face-to-face meetings or gatherings. But it rarely happens. A face clock is still my favorite facilitator’s tool. But, we do a great service for the learners when we give them time to reflect, and to step away from an issue (journal on it, for instance) before having to speak their minds. I find that when we do this dialogue becomes less aggressive, less impulsive, less competitive, and less “positioned.”

TIP:  Design meetings and workshops in such a way that issues can be contemplated, over time, with the promise that someone’s input will not get missed, even if they choose not to talk immediately.

2. Challenge People with Real Life Scenarios to Solve.

If you are reading this blog you are probably already a believer in having learners “do” what they are learning. For example, you probably use small group, pair, or solo work for responding to an open question, or creating a visual which shows their thinking about an issue. But how many of us really push ourselves to create tough, problem-based scenarios that will feel absolutely real to people?

In the recent e-facilitation course, we were asked to imagine that we were an e-facilitator named “Chris.” (Notice the gender-neutral name, carefully chosen so that we could easily envision ourselves as him or her). As “Chris,” we were presented with a panel of names and photographs of the people who were participating in our imaginary e-learning course.  We could read their latest posts to the group and were given some background information about their participation so far. We then had to decide how we would, as e-facilitators, respond (or not) to each learner. Would we write to them personally? Would we post something on the course site? If so, what would we say? What tone would we use?

TIP:  Take the time to create tough scenarios for people to grapple with. Make learning safe and also challenging - really challenging!

3. Let People Choose Where they Want to Spend Their Time

When you look at a well-designed Moodle learning space (Moodle is the e-learning platform used by DynaMind), you’ll see many places where you could go. For example, you might:

  • scroll through the central syllabus and preview the different learning tasks for the course; or
  • click on resource links that accompany each week's lesson and delve into some reading; or
  • post a burning question in the discussion forum.

For those who like e-socializing, there’s always the option of a “social corner."

As I perused the learning space for my recent e-facilitation course, I  was drawn to some parts of the space more than others. I knew where I wanted to go (and where I didn’t want to spend any time). E-workshops have a chronological structure of tasks, and people seem to appreciate that structure. That said, discussions from previous weeks often keep going as parallel threads:  we can have several discussions going at once. People tend to love that aspect. It’s never “too late” – nothing is “finished” if you don’t want it to be.

So I wonder: What if we created more of these “optional” learning spaces and open discussion threads for people in our face-to-face meetings and workshops?

TIP:  Study your own learning event designs to see where learners have simultaneous options to “go where they want to go,” as they would in a virtual learning space.

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage: anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani: valerie@globallearningpartners.com


6 Core Principles, Virtually!

This post is the first in a series of three, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Anouk and Val like working together because DynaMind’s courses, like those we offer here at GLP, are very thoughtfully designed. Val wrote this post after taking an e-facilitation course led by Anouk. The 5-week course was entirely asynchronous, involving twenty-five participants from all over the world. Read the other two posts in this series: 3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation and 5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks.


Respect. Safety. Engagement. Inclusion. Relevance. Immediacy. These six core principles drive our work at GLP. The other day I admitted to my dear colleagues that these principles sometimes feel “old-fashioned” to me. Especially in a world with so much “virtual” dialogue, I  wondered if these principles were still at the heart of a solid learning experience.

To help me examine my own question, I took a look at the extent to which these core principles were operating during my own experience in DynaMind’s recent e-facilitation course. I quickly discovered that, yes, indeed, these core principles are as responsible for the success of a virtual learning experience in 2013 as they were for my old Peace Corp trainings in 1988. They serve us well as a checklist for designing and facilitating, whether in-person or at-a-distance.

1. Respect ~ Acknowledge and affirm who I am and what I bring.

There are endless ways to affirm participants’ uniqueness in a virtual setting.

  • Communicate clearly, up front, the frame and style of the course. For example, in Moodle (the software used for the e-learning platform), we could see the entire course design from the start of the course.
  • Give people reasonable expectations. For example, we were told early on that the course would require nearly daily log-ins, for up to an hour each day.
  • Explain your choices. For example, Anouk decided not to have any “live” component in our e-learning course because of the multitude of time zones. She explained the decision and fielded questions about it as needed.
  • Show respect through your “look." The course site had a clean, concise, professional look. It seemed to say “I respect you and want to look good for you.” (It’s kind of like going to visit Grandma with your clothes clean and hair combed.

2. Immediacy ~ How soon will I get a chance to DO this?

For me, immediacy is all about creating opportunities for learners to DO what they are learning. Right here. Right now. And so it was in this virtual course. We were learning to be superb e-facilitators. So, the principle of immediacy demanded that we be given a chance to hone our e-facilitation skills right within the parameters of the course. We were given a set of very realistic scenarios and were called to respond as we would in “real life” to each one. We had to stretch ourselves to do what we thought was right, and explain the rationale for our choices in our teams. That’s immediacy!

3. Relevance ~ How useful will this be for me?

Relevance is about aligning a learning experience with the needs and wants of those participating, however diverse. In a virtual setting we are often faced with quite a range of interests and realities so it becomes important to know something about the participants beforehand, and to design the course to be useful in their context. For example, in this virtual course, the readings were widely applicable:  they were relevant for both asynchronous and synchronous environments; they were as relevant for those working in North America as for those working in Southern Africa; and, they were as useful for seasoned facilitators as for the less-experienced.

4. Safety ~ Will my view and experience be affirmed here?

What does safety look like in a course in which people log on when they want to, and yet depend on each other’s input regularly? What does safety look like in a course in which anyone can send a public message at any time, to anyone, on any topic?

Here are several ways to create safety:

  • Set the expectation of safety by laying out clear guidelines, from the get-go, about how people are expected to communicate with each other. For example, simple reminders like “no CAPS to show emotion,” and no harsh words.
  • Invite a leader for team tasks (so that they can organize, encourage and affirm comments).
  • Assign small groups to exchange ideas and debate among themselves.
  • As facilitator, continually assure people that “this is a safe place” by modeling safe dialogue, in writing. For example, when I went AWOL for a few days, Anouk sent me a private email, gently inquiring if all was okay, rather than posting, publicly, an inquiry about WHERE THE bleep WAS I!?

5. Engagement ~ If I’m not fully engaged, I’m not learning.

How many of us have been to e-learning opportunities that had the e- but not the learning? How can we design e-learning courses to engage everyone?   Here are some ways I saw it happen:

  • Communicate well in advance of the first day of the event to help everyone get ready (i.e. date in calendar, time set aside, log-in information handy);
  • Create an opening exercise that is “gently” personal, and that everyone can do equally well – no matter who or where they are. (For example, we were asked to sit back and take a look out our closest window, then describe what we see. Often people comment on how neat it is to be able to visualize from where other people in the group are writing. It makes the online environment feel much more personal, a collection of private spaces into which we’re allowed entry).
  • Don’t oversimplify. The most engaging aspect of the course, by far, was the reality of the final team task. Even though the tasks involved an imaginary scenario, I knew that the scenario had grown out of real life experience. It wasn’t artificial or “manipulated” to convince me of anything. There was lots of room for disagreement and there was not one, right answer. It was complex, just like the real world!

6. Inclusion ~ Hear my voice! 

Yes, Anouk used our names to make us feel included. Yes, our photos were up on the site (if we wanted). Yes, there was sincere affirmation of our posts.

All this helped us feel included. But more than anything else what really got me – and kept me – feeling included in this e-course was freedom.

  • I was free to get on the site as often as I was able.
  • I was free to be a part of the dialogue in any way I chose (i.e. discussion forum, team task, e-café).
  • I was free to read as much or as little as I felt inclined to.
  • I was free to disagree with what others had said, and to add to it.

In other words, I felt included because, although participation was compulsory, there was room for me to participate as I felt fit. Might this explain the very high completion rates for e-workshops compared to typical e-courses?

Tomorrow:  3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn from E-Facilitation

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage:  anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani:  valerie@globallearningpartners.com