Being a social facilitator

Earlier this week, Neil Morrison made a good challenge to the HR/L&OD world by saying that we should be using social media to innovate what we do.

It must have been playing on my mind.

A long time ago I decided that if I was going to be a facilitator, I was going to be a bloody great facilitator. I’d like to say I’m there. Recent feedback, though, tells me I’m still quite some way off. I delivered a session on Conflict Management and I got complacent in my facilitation. I didn’t do enough explanation of core pieces of knowledge and delegated too much responsibility to the groups. This is not necessarily a bad thing, except what it meant was that the learning experience could have been much more potent and meaningful. I just let it be ok.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Not every learning session I deliver is a gold class event.

I know where I failed on that last session. I didn’t prepare the session properly. I rested on my laurels and let experience take over. My bad yo.

And today, I was being trained myself, on negotiation skills. I actually enjoyed the session, and thought the trainer (not a facilitator in this context) did a good job of sharing knowledge, his experience, and getting us to think about some practical methodologies. At the start of the session, he did the very typical house-keeping rules and said “please turn your mobile phones to silent” – which immediately got me thinking.

At Bold L&D last week, the use of technology was a core part of the learning experience. It was explicitly contracted as part of the day. People could share content at will, make notes using whatever felt more comfortable for them as a capture tool, gave live feedback about the events transpiring in the day, and there was no right or wrong about the whole thing.

I reflected on Positive Psychology in Application last year, and how I built in social media as a core part of the event. I didn’t want to keep the conversation limited to the four confines of the walls. People had permission to share their learning readily as it was happening.

And it further got me thinking about the many conversations about the need to move from traditional L&D facilitators, to curators of content and enabling social learning to proliferate organisations through online collaborative tools.

(Yes, that’s a lot of thinking that went on in the learning session. We were doing introductions and experiences for the first 20 mins so my mind was allowed to wonder. Ssh.)

Which brought me back to – what about the learning session I’m part of. That you attend. That we mandate our people go through. How do we incorporate social media as a live facilitation tool, as opposed to an add on after the event, or making content available via the LMS, or writing a blog post about experiences.

I’d wager that maybe 98% of us L&Ders just never considered that this was a possibility. I know I never have.

What do I mean by this? Well here’s what I don’t mean. I don’t mean the inclusion of TED videos or YouTube videos to illustrate a learning point. I don’t mean using Prezi as an alternative delivery aid.

I mean things like this:
– Asking the group to use their devices to immediately research a definition for a topic, which becomes part of the learning session e.g. “we’re here to talk about conflict resolution. Go online and spend 5 mins looking for a definition which you’re happy to share with the group”
– Asking the group to use a mindmap app to create the content for a group discussion e.g. “We’re going to think about how to apply what we’ve learned about the Thomas Killman Inventory. Use a mindmap app to create this and we’ll share with the group on the screen.”
– Asking the group to learn about different presentation styles on a presentation skills course e.g. “Spend 10 mins watching some YouTube videos about different presentation styles, and we’ll talk about what they meant for you, and how you could try one of those in this training.”

Right, now we’re getting innovative. Now we’re pushing the learning experience of people to be more relevant, and highly engaging. I’m not suggesting building social into every activity we do as facilitators. Like any good facilitation tool/technique/technology, it has to be purposeful, and it has to add value to the learning experience.

Last week I said that I like to play when it comes to facilitation.

Let’s really play.

(footnote. I don’t know if the term ‘social facilitation’ has been used in this context. If it hasn’t, I totally bagsy copyright on it.)

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

10 thoughts on “Being a social facilitator”

  1. Fabulous blog! I’m presenting at a conference in Feb on social learning and this has given me some extra stuff to think about and add! Will also refer to ‘social facilitation’ (c) Sukh Pabial. Co-incidentally the social workshops I’m putting together actively use social tools for note-taking, sharing, research and discussion. Happy to share how this goes.

  2. I quite agree with you to an extent that a blend of social facilitation and the traditional approach of training delivery gives a better overall learning experience. However, we need to be mindful of the use of the social media while learning sessions are ongoing.

    How do we ensure our trainees are not distracted by other issues on their timelines in case of Twitter for example? How do we ensure that trainees are actually checking online what they are being asked to and not catching up on some latest football results?

    These are possible scenarios and as facilitators, we should learn to strike a balance between the two approaches in a way that it will lead to great learning experiences.

    1. It’s a fair comment, Bashir, although I think it’s also a big red herring.

      Do delegates always concentrate on the topic they’re learning about? Are they always have a conversation which is part of the learning session? Can we as facilitators restrict people from talking in a learning session about topics of interest to them?

      I think there are two pertinent points to make note of. The first is that if people choose to use their devices to check on football scores or get sidetracked by Twitter, that’s not a problem as it will be a momentary thing not something that happens throughout the session. The second is that as long as they also complete the task asked of them, then where’s the harm in being sidetracked?

      1. Yeah – and then – what about calling them out and (playfully, but seriously) challenging them to link what they’re looking at (football scores or whatever it may be..) to the topic at hand? If you’re gonna play….you might as well integrate the ‘distraction’ into the learning. Who knows, you might even end up getting them to think a little more creatively as a result.

  3. Good thoughts – I like where you’ve gone with Neil’s call to action. I agree that concern of folks getting off track is a red herring. It’s the facil’s job to keep the group focused, the learning happening, and things moving forward. Any activity that uses social media would need to be as well facilitated as any other activity, discussion, etc. AND it’s never all or nothing – incorporating social doesn’t mean that you always do it or never do it. Like anything else it would only be done as appropriate and as supported, enhanced, and accelerated learning. Good stuff and it’s got me thinking.

  4. Hi Sukh, certainly something to try more of. I’ve only tinkered with it, some encouraging people to use phones for research during a session/exercise etc. or share a video.

    I’ve always felt it is important to treat people as adults, so if they are distracted by anything, it’s up to them to make the choice to stay focused or be distracted, to reconnect with the learning or go back to the office to sort out a problem, I don’t think ‘permission’ to use their devices will change that significantly, I’m getting used to people making notes straight in to laptops or on iPads and I don’t know what else they are doing …

    I have to ensure the learning opportunity is relevant and engaging but their learning is not my sole responsibility – it has to be a partnership, or collaboration with others.

    Watching my son learn through use of his various devices has helped me to understand more of what’s possible and I’d like to experiment more so I’ll be watching out for inspiration here!

  5. Funnyingly enough, the last full day training I attended as a participant I spent the whole day on my twitter stream instead on paying attention to the facilitator. Rude I know, and I’m not proud of it. But I had tried to tell my manager that I don’t learn very well with the way they were proposing running the training, suggested an alternative, made to go anyway and consequently bored sh**less.

    So, if your participants are distracted, you’ve got to ask some serious questions about what you’re delivering and how you’re doing it to the learning styles.

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