In this episode, Beth Cougler Blom talks about some of the things we should think about when we design activities into our workshops and courses. Beth explores concepts such as using learning outcomes to guide activity choice, designing authentic activities, offering choice to learners, and supporting all participants with the activities we choose.
Links from the Episode
- Design to Engage: How to Create and Facilitate a Great Learning Experience For Any Group, by Beth Cougler Blom
- Find the Activities Checklist in the Free Downloads section at designtoengagebook.com
- EP 15: Dealing with Self-Doubt with Beth Cougler Blom
- EP 13: Experimenting with Experiential Learning with Romy Alexandra
- EP 7: Learning How to Learn with Taruna Goel
- Liberating Structures
Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast
- Follow Facilitating on Purpose on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube
Connect with Beth Cougler Blom
- Give feedback or suggest upcoming show topics or guests at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit bcblearning.com to explore Beth’s services as a facilitator and learning designer
- Purchase a copy of Beth’s book, Design to Engage
- Follow Beth on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn
[Upbeat music playing]
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.
Hello, welcome. Welcome to Episode 19. This one is called Choosing Activities. And ooh, this is going to be a meaty one, because there are all sorts of considerations around how we choose activities for our learning events, no matter what mode they’re in, in person, online – doesn’t matter. There are always many, many, many considerations that we can and should keep in mind when we are designing our workshops or our courses. And how do we choose the activities that are going to help propel learners forward in their work, in their lives, whatever the situation is that the learners are in with our activities?
In my work as a learning designer, I actually get this question quite a bit because people often are very, very familiar with the content that they want to teach or to instruct others in. But actually involving the participants or, you know, whatever you call your learners, that is often the sticking point for people because they’re not quite sure how to turn that lecture, say, or that presentation into a participatory learning experience for their learners. So if that’s you, don’t worry, because it’s super, super common for people to feel that way. To have that angst or that uncertainty around how to make the session or the workshop or the course, more interactive. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. And just know that in the learning design world, we have all sorts of considerations that we can share with you, to help you get there.
Now, if you are a skilled learning designer, I am going to be thinking about you as well, while I record this episode, because if you’re anything like me over the last few years, or well, basically over our whole careers, we’re always learning something new about learning design, aren’t we? And so I’m hoping that you will always be able to take a nugget or two or more away from this episode, because I will be the first to say I am still learning always in my field and I haven’t figured it all out yet. I mean, I feel like I know a bunch of stuff and you do too, if you’re very experienced. But then there are always things that other people are always teaching us and we recognize that we need to enhance in ourselves and in our practice. And so I think whether you’re a new learning designer, or you’re new to developing and designing workshops, or you’ve been doing it for quite some time, there’s going to be something for you in this episode.
Because I’ve written about choosing activities in my book, Design to Engage, I thought I would actually start there. So no matter whether you have read Design to Engage or not, you can go to my website for the book, designtoengagebook.com, and download the activities checklist that I give away for free just as an accompaniment to the book. I am going to use that checklist to kind of riff off of it and to go further and expand my thinking and my, what I’m telling you around those concepts that I wrote about in there, because you can then start with that as your main guide, and then use this episode to take it even further.
Just like anything that has a bit of a shelf life I wrote Design to Engage, you know, a couple of years ago or more depending on when you’re listening to this episode. And so even looking back two or three years later, I’m looking at the checklist going Oh, interesting. How have I expanded my own knowledge since I wrote that checklist? Or looking back at it with fresh eyes, what am I thinking about even the way I phrased some of the things in the checklist? So if it helps you to get the checklist out and look at it as we go through the episode together, then please go do that. Otherwise, you might want to download it after and just use it as a bit of a jumping off point. But this might be a great episode actually to go and grab your learning journal or another place where you want to take notes. Maybe you want to mind map as you listen to this episode, because there are going to be a lot of details that I discuss today that you probably are going to want to capture somewhere for yourself. I don’t know about you, but I listen to a lot of podcasts while I’m walking around the neighbourhood or wherever I happen to be walking. And I know that if I come back to my office, or come back home after I’ve listened to the episode, and somebody if they asked me at that time what I learned in the episode, I might struggle a little bit with what I learned, being able to really nail that down and be clear about it, because I didn’t write anything down. So help yourself out maybe whenever you listen to any of my episodes, but this one particularly might be a good one to just grab something and have it beside you. So you can take some notes as you go.
Okay, so let’s dive into the Activities Checklist. And I won’t…if you do have it in front of you, I won’t go through the questions necessarily in order because I’ve kind of gone through it for myself and grouped some things that were sort of similar to each other. So just know that I’m using it but I also might not address things in the same order as they are in that sheet. The last thing I’ll say about the checklist itself is that I phrased it in terms of questions that you should ask yourself, as you’re designing activities, so they are all in question format and I will keep that structure in this episode as we go through some of the points.
So the first question on the checklist is how do the activities relate to the intended learning outcomes? If you’ve listened to any of the episodes, well, I don’t know about any of them. But often, I feel in the podcasts solo episodes that I’ve done, I definitely have talked about learning outcomes before. In our work as a company, we dig into them quite a bit, they are always providing the anchor and the foundation for our learning design work. This is your North Star, learning outcomes. These are the targets that you’d like your learners to hit with their knowledge and their behaviour changes. So dig into learning more about learning outcomes through reading Design to Engage or other places where you get your information about designing learning. Write them and then what you’re going to do is align activities and assessments to them. So this means the more clear you are with the way you write your learning outcomes, the easier it is going to be to choose and design activities related to the learning outcomes, because actually, it really is the activity that you should have, when you’ve written the learning outcome properly. They should be directly aligned with each other.
I guess the only thing to think about is sometimes the achievement of the learning outcome is the last activity, and you might have one or two or more activities leading up to that end result or that achievement of the learning outcome. So you might be designing one activity per learning outcome or there might be multiple activities per learning outcome, depending on how you’ve phrased the outcome and kind of how broad or what level of learning it might be at.
One thing to be very clear about with learning outcomes is that we can write them in terms of what the learner will be able to know, do or value by the end of the workshop, or sometime after the workshop. And actually, of course, our ultimate goal for learners is that they are able to have those behavioural changes in the workplace or wherever the location is that they’re using the knowledge that they’ve been learning about. So just think about the learning outcomes, and the time that they will be achieved by the learner, because that could mean that you would put activities into the workshop to align to them but there also might be tasks or activities that you design that are after the technical end of the workshop, that are more back in the workplace or on the job. And so you would be choosing activities that would be, you know, at a person’s desk or in the field or that kind of thing. So when we think about choosing activities, that’s very important. When are you hoping that the learning outcome will be achieved?
So I think I already said this, but if you’re going to have a learning outcome you need an activity to align with that. So I keep saying kind of activities or assessments, it could be both, I tend to make a distinction between activities being something that we’re not grading, or not assessing, giving a mark to in any way. And assessments would be more formal, graded, you know, being evaluated in a much more numerical way, for example.
Now, one thing that has come up for me a lot recently with client work is that people don’t necessarily have learning outcomes. They have competency frameworks. And this is something I’m not an expert at but I want to share with you that my work around competency frameworks is that yes, it’s great that you have a competency framework. But I still think that you should write learning outcomes to align back to those competencies, because it’s in the writing of intended learning outcomes where you can get more measurable and observable with your language of the behaviour and knowledge changes that you want to see in the learners and that gives you a better clue to the activities that you have to then create so that learners can achieve those outcomes, if that makes sense. So you would have a broadly reaching competency framework, learning outcomes underneath that that are more measurable and unobservable, and then you would create and design activities to align to those outcomes that you could directly see and observe the learner achieving.
So the entire point I’m trying to make, hopefully clearly in this section is that if you have learning outcomes, you will have activities aligned to them. And if one of the things is not there, then you have to ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. You either need to remove outcomes from your workshop plan, your lesson plan. If you don’t think you need an activity around it, that probably means it’s not an outcome. And if you have the reverse situation, that you have activities that you think will help learners learn the content or learn the behavioural changes, and then you haven’t written outcomes around it, you probably need to because if you think that the content is important enough to have an activity around it, that probably is a learning outcome that you want to state in the learning design of the workshop.
Phew! Okay. [laughs] Outcomes, that is a hard, hard thing to kind of explain, I guess so succinctly. Hopefully, I did a good job of that. Let’s go on to some of the other things that I think about around choosing activities given that we’ve already covered the piece around the North Star of learning outcomes.
Another question I’d like you to ask yourself, as you’re thinking about choosing activities for your learning experience, is what do people do in real life around this content, or around this topic? We call this authentic learning and sometimes I describe that as as close to what people do in real life as possible. So I really, when I work with clients, I go tell me how this happens in the field or tell me how this happens in the workplace. Like, what are people doing when they’re doing the thing? And what does it look like in the actual place where they use the skill or the knowledge? So authentic learning and how that happens in the end place where the learner is demonstrating their knowledge, what does that look like? A fun way to kind of enter into this conversation with yourself or with your client is sometimes about the pain points or mistakes that people make on the job or in the workplace, or that happen commonly in the field. Maybe there’s an activity there, because the mistakes can lead us to, you know, the real problems that are happening. So there might be activity ideas around kind of those stories of the pain [laughs] that people have in their environment, or the mistakes that happen very often where people are doing the work.
Sometimes this can also be about the tools that people use on the job. And so for example, if they use a spreadsheet on the job to do a thing, well, can you actually get them to use that spreadsheet in the workshop? Or even a physical tool, is there something that can be brought into their learning experience where they’re using that tool in the session? So think about what the work looks like, wherever the work is with your type of learners, and if it can give you clues to what the activities should look like in your learning environment to make it authentic to the job or to the environment.
Another question I’d like you to ask yourself when choosing activities is how will you scaffold and sequence activities to help people learn the content over time? So I’ll just quickly explain scaffolding and sequencing. Scaffolding is when we offer more support to the learner in the beginning when they’re learning the thing and then we slowly remove those supports from them as they gain more confidence and more skill in the thing that they’re learning. So I think in my book I give the example of somebody teaching me how to tie knots in ropes. And so the scaffolding would be something like, somebody shows me how to tie the knot. And then next, they would give me the rope, they would stand beside me while I was tying the knot based on the demonstration that they gave. They probably would maybe grab the knot back at some point and show me again, or they would give it back to me and they would correct. Maybe they would hold my hands a certain way and then get needs to tie the rope again, to try to tie the knot. And then they would probably stand a little farther back, wouldn’t they, and just really let me do it by myself. And so over time, the person who was teaching me the knotting skills would remove their supports as I learned the task and was able to do it more effectively with no help whatsoever. That is scaffolding. So you can think about activities that you might design, where in the beginning you give the learner more supports, maybe more examples, or fully completed versions or something that they can copy or mimic, and then towards the end, maybe the last activity is them doing it on their own without looking at the examples or without having access to the expert version or something like that. So that’s scaffolding.
Sequencing is similar but slightly different in terms of there are different ways to sequence activities when we design them into the session. So one might be starting with the big picture and getting them to do something that’s broadly globally applicable around the content. And then over time you would sequence and maybe do different activities that would help them go down into the specifics after, or maybe you start with the specifics and then have them work up to the global piece that they need to learn towards the end. So there are different ways to sequence and just knowing the concept of sequencing I think will help you determine, Okay, well, do I want to put one activity into this lesson plan related to this outcome? Or does it really need two or three, or however many more activities to help move learners along a process where in the end, they will achieve that outcome because it’s a more complex task, or knowledge or skill demonstration that the learner needed to do?
Okay, let’s go on to another thing in the activities checklist. Actually, this one bounces around at two or three different questions that I had in the checklist. Those were, how will you design a variety of activities, including for individual work, pairs, small and large group work? And are there elements of both quiet, independent thinking and group collaboration in selection of activities? And lastly, there was another question about can you build in choice related to the activities? So I can kind of put these three questions, I think, under inclusive facilitation. These are just some of the things that we might think of when we’re trying to include all learners in a learning experience. So the nature of the activity, whether the learner is learning alone, or whether they’re working with another person, or a small group, or a large group or whatnot, think of how you can design a variety around those things. And give them a variety of even the noise level of those type of activities. We…some of us to not want to be in very noisy rooms for an entire day of learning, for example. And some of us would be really, really upset if they were in a very quiet room for an entire day of learning. So there’s variety that we can seek in who’s involved in the activity, and the quiet or loudness of the activity, and many, many other types of variety, I’m sure around how the activity works. You know, the tools involved or whether they’re moving or sitting or those kinds of things. So think about just across your lesson plan, how you’re designing in a variety of activities to be inclusive, and to try to capture the preferences of all the learners that you have in the room.
Now, this element of choice over the last few years, since I’ve written Design to Engage, I’ve been thinking about this element more deeply. And so some of the things that I think about now are, well, what about the option to not participate? I didn’t really talk about that when I wrote the book before, I don’t think. [laughs] I maybe have to go back and read a couple of sections! But I don’t think I really thought a lot about whether learners, we could give them the option to not participate at that particular time in that activity that we’re allowing them to do. So we don’t want to just think about that as facilitators when we’re in the room when that’s happening. We want to think about that possibility as designers, when we’re choosing activities. To question ourselves as designers about whether participants or whether our learners actually have to do certain activities in certain ways, or whether they don’t. So this will absolutely depend on the assessment levels and the nature of the assessments that you’re doing with learners. If you’re not firmly assessing learners, maybe you’re okay with someone choosing to sit out of an activity, I don’t know. But maybe that absolutely can’t happen in your environment.
What about if a participant came to you and said, I would like to demonstrate this learning to you but I would like to do it in a different way than you’ve said? Okay, we have a decision to make there in the moment as well as facilitators, but let’s back it up to the design stage that we’re currently talking about. Can you design the activity to get ahead of the fact that some learners might come to you and ask you that – or even better that you give the option for learners to be able to tell you how they would like to demonstrate their learning to you if it’s in a different way than you’ve actually set forward in your course or in your workshop. So you could design in a bunch of choice intentionally and say, here are your options for how I think you could demonstrate the learning for this particular learning outcome. But then also say, and I invite you to come to me and pitch me another idea.
So the inclusivity around designing activities, in terms of choice is something I think we’re all learning more about, aided by things like Universal Design for Learning, and the UDL framework. I’ll put a link for that in the show notes. I’m not a UDL expert, by any means. I know there’ll be months and years of learning for me to continue to dig into that framework to see how I can support my learners. But if you’re thinking about how to design activities that are inclusive, for all of the myriad types of learners that we have in any single classroom, any single learning space that we have, UDL is one of the things that will help us get there. For a little bit more information on UDL. I know Taruna Goel in Episode 7 of the podcast talked about UDL. So that might be a great episode for you to listen to, if you haven’t yet. It’s called Learning How to Learn.
One last way that I’ve been challenging myself in the last couple of years, especially as we’ve been doing more work in the virtual spaces, is how can we design in more activities that incorporate use of our whole body into the learning experience? We aren’t just talking heads in the Zoom window, are we? We have more to our bodies than just our heads and our necks and our throats. And maybe we’re hand talkers and we’re using some of that. But we are not often online using our bodies. And so that is another type of variety, that when you’re choosing activities, you can think about. Are there things with the five senses and movement that you can design into your sessions that not only give people that body break that we’re all looking for – at the very least, inviting people to stand up and wiggle around a little bit, or move their bodies and whatever way they can to have a break – but how can we make the choice and the design of those types of activities really relevant to the content area? I’m sure there’s a way and so I invite you to challenge yourself if you have a really cognitive sort of brain-based topic and you think, Well, I don’t think there’s anything whole body at all related to this content, I want to challenge you. Because there are opportunities that lie within the whole body experience that you might not have tapped into yet. So ask around, see if anybody can help you with that one. And you can do a little bit of self learning on that as well.
If you want to refer to another episode that we did about whole body activities, Romy Alexandra and I in Episode 13, called Experimenting with Experiential Learning, we facilitated each other through different sense-based activities, just as a practice thing. We were doing it and learning about it at the same time. So you might enjoy listening to that episode for a little inspiration if you haven’t yet done so.
Continuing on the theme, I suppose of inclusive facilitation – there’s just so much under this category – I mean people have written whole books about this and they will continue to as we’ve learned more about what inclusive facilitation looks like. A couple of things that have happened to me in the last couple of years are someone shared with me around neurodiversity, and someone that they knew that would be just devastated if they were put into a breakout room without some advance warning. So I’m starting to keep my awareness open and starting to learn more about what it means to be a neurodiverse learner, and how that actually impacts what we do as designers. Expecting that we are going to always have a room full of diverse learners. I mean, our brains are always different from each other. We don’t have to have a diagnosis of some kind of thing in a neuro diverse way. But how do we just say, Okay, people are different, and people have different preferences and needs. And so how can I design activities, where I just say to myself, Okay, people are diverse. I need to have options in here. I need to expect that some folks are really not going to be able to do this activity in this way because of who they are. And that’s just fine. So two things related to activities that I have been doing for quite some time now are in all of the pre-session communication emails that I send out to my groups before I facilitate with them, I invite them to reach out to me ahead of time to let me know how I can support them in the workshop. I just have a very general statement that I put in my email and it basically gives people the permission to tell me what they need in the session. I absolutely have had people respond to that email and tell me something really crucial to my design, around how I could support them in the workshop. So just a simple statement like that will help you think about being more broadly inclusive in the way you design your activities, because you’re gonna get people telling you things that you have not even thought of before. And that’s a good thing, because then you know it for the next group, and you’ve had that experience.
So people teach us stuff as we go along. And it’s not just other people that are in our field, it’s our participants. And so the more we say to our participants, please teach me about what you need, and how I can better support your learning, then you’re going to be able to choose and design more inclusive activities in the months and years to come because you have had your awareness broadened around those things. Keep learning around all of these things that kind of fall under the umbrella of inclusive facilitation. Just last week, I was in a workshop as a participant and it was about feminist facilitation. And I have to admit, I’d never really thought of the term feminist in terms of facilitation before. And I’ve been a facilitator for a long time. [laughs] And I’m a woman and I identify as a feminist, but I’ve never really put the two together. And so I’m challenging myself around designing activities and designing sessions to be inclusive in those ways and in other ways, where I’m still learning about. Trauma informed practice is also an area where I don’t know much about that, I was not trained in that in my prior education. And so I’m attending workshops and short sessions, and so on, here and there, around those and other topics. And all of that comes back to aid me in how I choose activities, because it just teaches me about people who are not like me, and what they might need in a workshop. So don’t fall into the trap of just thinking, Oh, this is what I like to do in a workshop ao I’m going to design that for my group. We always have to check that kind of thinking in ourself because everybody isn’t like us. And I think that’s basically why we have a wonderful diverse world to participate in, because they aren’t. So expect that experience and that situation for the learning experiences that you’re designing.
Now, some of the other questions I have in the Activities Checklist are around choosing and designing activities that will draw knowledge from everyone in the room. So I think if you’ve listened to probably most of the episodes we’ve had on the podcast so far, you will know that I and others that I’ve interviewed have a strong bent towards designing participatory, active learning. So that’s probably something I should have started with. That, you know, if you’re going to have an activity, it really has to involve people in the room, that is the best thing. It’s the best kind of workshop because when people aren’t involved, they can’t learn as easily. So that’s one of the foundational pieces you should be asking yourself.
We think about whether activities are meaningful and interesting and motivating to participants. And if you’re not quite sure the answer to that, doing learner analysis activities really will help you get there. And that’s just a fancy way to say, who are the learners? What do you know about them? And what’s difficult for them? What do they already know? Are there barriers for them? Are there opportunities? How can we make the session worth it for them? So there’s all sorts of questions that we can dig into in terms of a learner analysis of who’s going to be in the actual room, or the types of learners that fit that particular group or subgroup. Do that advance work around who you’re designing for, because that’s going to help you write appropriate outcomes, for sure. And it’s also going to help you choose meaningful activities that will be motivating and interesting, relevant to your learners.
When we’re choosing activities, it’s kind of interesting – and maybe a little scary – we actually have to choose activities that we think our participants are going to be comfortable with, for the most part, but I think we also have to push them a little bit. Because we want them to have new experiences. We are in the business of helping them learn. And sometimes learning is slightly uncomfortable. We can’t push them so far, so that they’re scared and they’re fearful and they actually can’t learn in those situations. But there’s maybe a sweet spot there that we’re looking for to help people come to a bit of their learning edge. That they can do something in a different way than they’ve done before and it’s maybe slightly uncomfortable, but it’s not so uncomfortable that they’re just checking mentally out of the building and they’re throwing their hands up and I don’t want to learn anymore. So yes, we have to think about if activities will be comfortable for participants, but I wrote in the Activities Checklist, can we also gently challenge them as well?
In this vein, I also have a question about if the activities are ones that you feel comfortable with and are able to facilitate? And maybe the same advice goes for us as facilitators as well. I mean, it’s one thing to put something down on paper when we’re designing our lesson plans but it’s another thing to go and facilitate it in the room, isn’t it? Maybe something we haven’t done before or done in a different way than we’re used to. Or an activity that we might not necessarily like, but we know our learners are going to really benefit from it. So we can’t design the session that we’re fully comfortable in, I don’t think all the time. We might actually have to push ourselves as facilitators, because that’s going to serve our group a little bit better. And maybe we pull in a colleague to help co-facilitate something and it makes it a little easier or who, who knows what? So think about your choice around activities and actually how it impacts who should facilitate them. It could be you, but it could be someone else, or maybe two of you together.
I know for myself that there are probably some activities that I would feel uncomfortable facilitating, just because they don’t feel like me, or I’m not very skilled in them or something along those lines. So there is something to that, I mean, we’re probably not going to be able to facilitate all activities and feel really, really comfortable in doing them right away or at all, but also recognize that you could be feeling some self doubt around the facilitation aspect of activities you’re not really familiar with. And that is something that we can get over. I did a whole solo episode about Dealing with Self Doubt, Episode 15. So if you struggle with wondering whether you are going to be effective at doing something like facilitating a certain activity, then that might be a great episode for you to listen to.
On the practical level, I also want you to ask yourself if you have the supplies and the resources that you need to support the activities, and the space that the activities require. So the space and the materials really do factor into a well facilitated activity. If you are given, for example, a very tiny boardroom with a large immovable table in the middle of it and massive, massive chairs where there’s barely enough room to walk around them, around the edge of the table, and you want to try to do something very participatory, very stand up and move around-ish in that room, you’re going to have difficulty with that. So the space that you are given or that you choose for your workshop absolutely affects the ability or not to be able to do certain activities. So choose wisely when you’re choosing your spaces, or ask a lot of questions if you’re not the one who has chosen the space, and you haven’t seen it. I like to get people to send me pictures of the space that I’m going to be facilitating in so I can be very, very clear in my own mind how the space is going to support or detract from the things that I want to be able to do with the group or can do with the group because of those limitations.
Materials are a whole other thing, and one thing that I always remember from writing my book and interviewing the 30 facilitators that I interviewed to be able to inform the book, my friend Lise-Lotte Loomer, I will always remember that she told me that the materials and supplies that she brings into the workshop are a way that she cares for her participants. So when you’re choosing materials for activities, choose, again, wisely. Choose good quality, new materials as much as possible. I know it’s not always possible. There are budgets to deal with and all sorts of things. But try to get the best supplies you can, because it is a way that you can show the group that you care about them in their learning, and that you are trying to create the best experience for them possible through not just the activities that you design, but all of the materials that they need to use to support them through that activity to be able to achieve those learning outcomes we were talking about earlier.
Now the last thing that I will talk with you about around choosing activities is around the time it takes to facilitate a great activity. And again, maybe I should have talked about this earlier in the episode because it’s actually one of the most common things that people talk to me about is when you make the switch from doing a lot of presentation or lecture, and having that be a one-sided experience to the audience or to the learners. And you make the switch to having it be more of a facilitated interactive, participatory, learning experience, people will say, Oh, it takes more time to do that. That takes up more time in my agenda than I thought. And my answer is yes, it does. It takes time to include activities in learning experiences, but that’s what makes it a learning experience as I said before. If we don’t have of time for activities, we actually can ensure that the participants are learning the things that we are intending for them to learn. So we can do nothing but save time in our lesson plans for incorporating activities because if we don’t do that, we don’t know that the people are actually learning because we actually haven’t given them the opportunity to be involved in their own learning.
So one of the big considerations around choosing activities is incorporating enough time for those participatory activities in your lesson plan. And as you think about this, I want you to think about where the content comes from in the learning experience. The content doesn’t always have to come from us as the facilitator of the learning experience. The content is generated by us yes, because we’re the expert that’s been asked to lead the session. But it also comes from the participants. So I’d like you to remember this for yourself, especially if you’re very new to putting together lesson plans for your learning experiences, is that it’s both those small presentation pieces from us, as well as the time participants spend in their activities that form the content and the learning of the workshop.
I think this will help people say to themselves, I have enough time for that activity, because that activity is part of the learning. The learning doesn’t just come from us when we tell our participants what we know about the topic. The learning comes from us when we devise and craft and facilitate participants through the activity. Because in that activity, they are active, they’re participatory, they’re thinking, they’re discussing, they’re generating knowledge with themself and with each other. They might even be creating new knowledge that we didn’t even know was going to happen. So that is where learning happens, both in our little mini lecturette times, keep them sparse and interject them with lots of times where participants are working in activities, because that is where the learning happens. So yep, they take time, but they are the meat of the workshop and that is where you can be certain that learning outcomes are being achieved.
Lastly, I will say because, Oh, there’s just so much to say and I really should close this episode now! I will say that people often ask where do you get activities? And if you’ve been wondering this the whole time you’ve been listening to this episode – you might be thinking why did she take this long to get to this part? – I suppose it’s because all of the things that I’ve talked to you about up until this point in the episode are really the meatier things around choosing activities. Yes, there are repositories on the Internet and otherwise of where you can get activities to draw from, and I draw from those areas too. But really, I can’t give you a list of activities that are going to work in every single workshop that you want to create for your learners. All of the things that we’ve been talking about are really the most important things. What is the purpose of why you’re having the learning experience? Where are you trying to get your learners in terms of their behaviour and their knowledge change by the end of the learning experience, or back on the job, or whatever? All of those pieces around inclusive facilitation and choice, digging into who your learners are, and what motivates them and what they already know and all of those things. Those are the most important things to think about in terms of activities. That’s going to drive your decision making most of all. I want you to ground yourself in that thinking for yourself before you even go to search for proper activities. But your content should drive the way and be the most important thing that helps you choose an activity. Again, draw from the real world, the things that are happening with those learners wherever their work is happening. And that will be some of the most important decision making that you’ll do. It’s not picking from a set.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my sets. [laughs] I love Liberating Structures. I talk about it all the time. And so much so on this podcast that sometimes I don’t want to talk about it because I’m talking about it too much. I love using Session lab.com, also a repository of great activities. So there are places out there absolutely that you can draw from. But keep grounding yourself in all of those other pieces that we’ve talked about up until this point because that’s your North Star and that’s what will guide you most. Be creative in what you think you can do with your learners that will benefit them back where they’re going to use their knowledge.
As I get close to turning you loose and letting you go to go and do some work, choosing activities and designing your lesson plans, I will say again that I did write about a lot of this in my book, Design to Engage: How to Create and Facilitate a Great Learning Experience For Any Group. I’ve gotten great feedback from it from those of you who have read it over the last couple of years. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve read it all in a weekend because they were enjoying it so much. I’ve had people tell me that they keep it on their desk and refer to it often when designing learning. So it makes me really happy that it is out there in the world being used by folks like you. And if you don’t have it already, I’d be thrilled to be able to send you one or you can also get it at any international online bookstore. Design to Engage. Incidentally, the handouts that go along with the book are free. As I’ve said, they are on designtoengagebook.com. So even if you don’t buy the book, you’re absolutely welcome to just go and download the activities checklist or any of the other handouts that are with the book on that website. And I hope you find value in those too. There’s a lesson plan template there as well, which you might find useful.
So go forth, make your sessions interactive and participatory. And I would love to hear how this episode might have made a difference for you in the way you choose activities for your sessions. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know I would love to hear. And if I missed any questions that you have, feel free to reach out as well. I am always happy to get feedback from listeners. If I skip over things and don’t explain very well or if you have further questions about things I didn’t talk about, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can incorporate it into a future episode. The best email to reach me at to do that is email@example.com and you can get the spelling of my name from the podcast show notes.
On the next episode of the podcast, I interview Brett MacDonald. Brett is passionate about bringing people together. I have actually been a participant in Brett’s workshops a couple of times. Her work, rooted in improv, brings groups together to connect, to collaborate and to infuse joy into their days. I know I was very joyful when I was in Brett sessions. [laughs] I think she’s a great facilitator and I want you to know about her and her work. Brett and I talk about improv and facilitation, how she got started in improv, how that affects her work and life as a facilitator, and some of the techniques and principles of improv that can really apply to facilitation. So join Brett MacDonald and next time on the podcast. I’ll see you then.
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!