What Does It Mean to Facilitate on Purpose? – Episode 2

In this episode, Beth shares why she chose the name of the podcast, Facilitating on Purpose. She talks about what that means and why we might want to facilitate learning with our groups on purpose, as well as some initial ideas of how to do that.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • bringing intentionality to designing and facilitating learning experiences
  • what it looks like to not be intentional and how to overcome that
  • how time management is intricately interwined with the learning design process
  • how being learner-centred and paying attention to learning outcomes supports the design and facilitation of effective learning experiences, and
  • why making time for learning how to elevate your facilitation practice as professional development can be a really good thing

Connect with Beth

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

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. This is Episode 2 of the Facilitating on Purpose podcast. In this episode, I’m going to share with you a little about why I chose the name of the podcast, Facilitating on Purpose, a little bit about what that means to me, why we might want to facilitate on purpose, and then some initial ideas about how I think we can do that.

One of the most common words that I think about when I think about facilitating on purpose is intention. And I talk a lot about being intentional with other facilitators who are in my network, and with my clients about how we can kind of back up and do more intentional planning and design work to make sure that the end result, when we facilitate learning, it is an effective experience and it’s one that’s going to work for participants. And by work, I mean that they actually learn the things that we want them to learn. More active learning usually is part of that, more participatory learning, and so on.

So the word intention, or intentional, that’s something I really use a lot. And it comes to the forefront almost right away, when I think about doing something on purpose, facilitating on purpose. So what does it look like to be intentional with our design and our facilitation of learning experiences?

I think it actually is easier to start with what it looks like to not be intentional. One of the most common issues that people come to me with is that they feel that they’re doing too much presentation in their workshops or their courses, or too much lecturing, some people might say if you’re in a, say, a post secondary environment. So people, you know, begin to realize that they are doing too much of the talking when they’re leading a workshop or a course and they are trying to figure out a way to make things more participatory, to draw their learners in more often and more effectively. And so there becomes this opportunity for intentional design to help people break out of the mode of delivering – and I use that word kind of intentionally here because I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the word “deliver” because it does sound very uni directional – they’re delivering too much information to people and they need to kind of figure out how to pull things back, to restart their design process, and learn how to design more effectively so that their learners are involved. So, too much presentation, too much lecturing, that’s kind of one of the things that I see and work with people around where intentionality can be brought into the mix.

Kind of going along with that is too much PowerPoint! You know, Keynote, whatever you’re using. That’s another thing that people come to me with, that they may not even recognize that they’re relying on PowerPoint or slide decks as a crutch. But often they go hand in hand. You know, a lot of presentation often means a lot of PowerPoints because it’s really hard for people to remember, of course, in their head, all of the things they want to talk to people about. And so they end up overly using slide decks so that they can, you know, support these long periods of presentation. So this is another opportunity that I work with people around to help them break out of the over reliance on slide decks and design and then facilitate something that’s going to be more active for their participants. And then, following on that, more effective.

What’s another way that I see people not designing with intention? Well, I definitely have had people tell me that they’ve landed in some sort of a position where somebody else has taught something before them, you know, either a short workshop or a course or whatnot. And they’ve been handed usually those same PowerPoint decks or slide decks and said, this is what we want you to do. This is what we want you to to deliver or to teach. And sometimes this comes from a head office, you know, like a national organization of some kind has created at the high level, a slide deck for a particular learning experience, and they’ve they kind of filter it down. And the people who are charged with leading those things, you know, they come to me and complain that someone’s given them this huge PowerPoint deck and they feel like they’re being compelled by this other person or a previous person or another entity to deliver this long presentation experience that they have started to suspect isn’t actually very effective.

I’m sure there are more culprits of you know, lack of intention, but these are three big ones that I see. So the over reliance on presentation, on long slide decks with information in them that we just deliver to our participants, and then not questioning something that has come before.

So what does this give us? This gives us opportunities, doesn’t it? Because there’s always something we can do to bring more intentionality into our design experiences. And maybe it starts with raising our awareness about how that can happen and what that looks like. I will say, though, that if this is feeling like it’s hitting close to home for you, please don’t worry about this, because this is so so common. Almost everyone that comes to me for learning design assistance or consultation assistance around designing learning, this is an issue for almost every single client I have! And it’s totally normal. So don’t feel bad if you are one that is now thinking as you’re listening to this podcast, oh, yeah, that’s me, I present more than I want to, or I lecture more than I want to or I really could reduce the size of my PowerPoint decks, or I’ve been given that PowerPoint deck from above and I didn’t question it. Please don’t worry. If you listened to my first episode, you would have heard me say that I fully recognize that a lot of people fall into this activity of facilitating learning, You know, because you know a content area well, and somebody asks you if you want to teach something. So because it usually means that people aren’t trained in design and facilitation formally, this is the kind of stuff that happens. And so as you grow in your role, and learn more about how to do that, of course you’re going to be able to bring more intention to the design and facilitation process. So don’t worry, we’ve all got to start somewhere. And there’s always time to do a better job of our designing, and our facilitating, okay, and I include myself in that. Absolutely.

There’s always this time thing as well, though, right? Because you know, people have big jobs. We have a lot of work, we are very busy in our roles right now. If you feel like that you are not alone. And so one of the issues, I think, that can prevent us from being intentional, or from taking the time to really plan with intention our workshops and our courses is time. We just don’t have enough time to carve out in our schedules to do it. And so we try to find those opportunities to add that back in and to make the time that we need to be intentional with our work and to allow us to have time to become more creative, and to use more design skills and strategies so that we can have more effective learning experiences.

Okay, so we’ve talked about some of the things that get in our way of planning with intention and facilitating on purpose. Now let’s talk about some things we can do to be able to facilitate on purpose, to be able to bring that intentionality to our learning design and facilitation work so that we can have those more effective experiences for our participants, our students, whoever is in our virtual or physical room. Of course, this is a really big topic in general. So what I’m going to do is just kind of skirt across the surface of some things that we can do to bring intentionality to thinking about our learners or our participants. And then some things we can do to bring intentionality to ourselves as the people who are leading the learning experience.

Let’s talk about our learners first, because one of the most important things we can do to bring intentionality to our learning design process is to be learner centered. Is to put our learners at the centre of our design process and to really think about who they are and what they need out of the learning experience. Doing some sort of needs assessment or needs analysis to figure out who your learners are, and what they know about the topic, what they don’t know about the topic and a whole host of other things to help you learn more about who they are and what they need is a really great first step to being learner centred and to bring intentionality to your design process around your learners and what they need.

One of the big opportunities that I see people missing sometimes is to recognize that their learners actually know something about the topic, whether they think they know something about it or not. The facilitator I mean. So to build sessions around the fact that learners have experiences that they bring with them into the learning experience is automatically going to help you think about designing a more active experience, a more participatory workshop or course for your learners. So recognizing that learners have knowledge that they’re bringing with them into the learning experience is a great first thing to remember when designing with intention. I’m sure we’ll do future episodes on learning more about our participants, about our learners. So you know, watch this space, right because the is a big topic, as I say, and there’s lots that we can do to really help us keep being learner centred and keeping those learners at the centre of our work.

A second thing that I think we can do to bring intentionality to our design process is to write learning outcomes. From my experience working with clients, I really see that a lot of people don’t understand what learning outcomes are, why they’re so powerful to our design experiences. And it’s so fascinating and wonderful to be able to unlock the power of learning outcomes with them. That when we write great effective, measurable, observable learning outcomes, and then – and this is super key – we design activities that participants actually do that are aligned with those outcomes, that actually helps us create more effective learning experiences, because it’s not just us, as the facilitator talking at the people in the room about the topic. We are actually focused on their work, their learning, and what they’re going to come out of the learning experience with. And then when we write those outcomes, we’re able to insert and include activities in the session to align with them to help us ensure that change actually happens in the learners.

So for me, sometimes I talk about learning outcomes as one of the keys, one of the most important keys of learning design, because it lays the foundation for everything else we’re going to do when designing the learning experience. And it kind of holds our feet to the fire, so to speak, of creating that participatory experience, we don’t just then come to the design of a workshop or a course thinking, Okay, well, this is what I know about so this is what I’m going to teach and here’s what I’m going to talk about. And it’s all about me, me, me and what I know. It really holds our feet to the fire of putting something down on paper, whether it’s digital paper, or whatever, of what we want the learners to come out with. And it allows us and enables us to make sure that we put activities in there aligned with it so that we can do the thing for the learners that we intended to do to create that opportunity for them.

Now, again, these two things that I’m talking about here, you might be thinking, well, I actually don’t know who my learners are before I come into the learning experience, or somebody else wrote the learning outcomes and they gave them to me and that’s what I’m stuck with. I encourage you to be creative in your work and you know, carve out that time that we were talking about to try to figure out solutions to those two problems. Are there things that you can do to learn more about your learners before you meet them to help you design for that particular group? And even if you’re given learning outcomes from someone else, look at them, you know, learn how to analyze them, and see if they’re actually going to be effective for you when you facilitate the course. So question everything is I guess what I’m saying. You know, just because something has come before you, I hope you can still create the opportunity to make change and bring that level of intentionality to the learning design process that we’ve been talking about that will help you and most importantly, your learners in the end.

Let’s think now about some of the things that we can do as facilitators of learning to bring intentionality to our work. I’ve got a couple of ideas for you here. They, too, could be the whole subject of future episodes, but I’ll try to do them a little bit of justice here in just a short period of time. The first thing is that time thing that I talked about earlier. Finding the time to design, to design effectively. To really giving the design process the time that it needs so that you can be creative, and you can create the thing that’s going to work for your participants.

In my book, Design to Engage, in Chapter 2 I actually have a section called Make Time to Design and wrote in some tips and shared some of my own tricks that I use to try to carve out the time in my own schedule for design. And it’s kind of like a small chunks method of designing using the Pomodoro method of setting a timer for short periods of time and so on. Figuring out what works for you in terms of carving out time in your own schedule to save time for creative design work is really key. And I’m sure you’ll find a way. The nice thing about planning your own time when you’re designing courses is that if you give yourself enough time, you can actually throw your design drafts by friends and colleagues in the field to get their input about what you’re doing too, which can actually help you create a better learning experience for your participants as well. So time has a lot to do with intentional learning design.

My last idea for you around how to bring intentionality to your facilitation is to think about your own self development in the field. So as I’ve talked about earlier, you might have some other content that you’re an expert in. That your expertise area is not necessarily in education, it’s probably in some other content or subject area. And that’s, again, very normal. But if you’re going to bring intentionality to your work as a facilitator of learning, it’s beneficial to try to eke out some time to read about, to think about how to become a better designer and facilitator of learning, at least in a small way that you can fit into your time and into your schedule while, of course, you’re still keeping up in your real field, whatever it might happen to be.

So things like following social media accounts where you can glean tips about facilitating learning, reading blog posts, reading books, and of course, listening to podcast episodes like this one and other great podcasts out there, these are all things that you can do to eke out time in your schedule to continue to expand your facilitation practice by reaching out to others in the field and learning from them. If you aren’t really making time for your own professional development around designing and facilitating learning right now, don’t worry, I mean, this is something that you can add in over time. Even just an hour here and there, when you see somebody offering a workshop or to just check out a blog post from time to time, these are all hopefully doable things that you can do to elevate your practice and to get a few great ideas.

You know, getting ideas from other people also helps reinvigorate us in our work. And so sometimes, especially if you’re feeling kind of burned out or tired, or you’re just not sure how to move forward, sometimes reaching out to others and continuing your own professional development, it can often ignite a spark inside you to continue to want to do more, and recapture some of the joy you might have for facilitating.

If you’re actually just starting out in your entire journey of learning how to facilitate learning, then these are all things you can do to start and then just get up and start practicing. Actually, in my book, Chapter 8 is all about how to grow your facilitation practice so that could be something that you could check out as well, to get you started.

Okay, so we have had a lot of ideas circling here about how to facilitate on purpose, how to bring a level of intentionality to our design and facilitation practice so that we can create those great learning experiences for the people in the room, wherever we are. I hope this has been valuable to you. Please let me know if there’s any topic that I’ve just kind of lightly touched on, that you’re wanting to hear more about, because I’d love to have your feedback to help inform the creation of future episodes or maybe to think about what guests might be able to come on to the podcast to help us explore more about this. So feel free to reach out and tell me what you need to know more about. I would love to hear from you.

Coming up the next episode of Facilitating on Purpose will be a guest episode. I will be interviewing Susana Guardado. Susana and I delve into a great conversation about inclusive facilitation. We really dive into what that looks like, how we can learn about how to do that, why it’s important to be inclusive facilitators, and some really doable things that you can add into your work to help you be more welcoming and inclusive to your groups. So I hope you’ll join us for our conversation. Thank you so much for listening today.

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!

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