Experiments in Social Facilitation

A while ago, I wrote about how we could use social technologies as a live facilitation tool. Eager to walk the walk and not just spout thoughts, I’ve been playing with this where I can and where it made sense and want to share my learnings from doing so.

What I’ve been experimenting with is inviting people in learning sessions to use their smartphones to find out something about the topic we’re covering and then we have a discussion about it.

I first tried it in a session I did with a group who were training to be internal facilitators. We were talking about icebreakers and energisers. I asked them to get involved by searching businessballs for information on either. This ended up proving quite the challenge as businessballs doesn’t really provide clear navigation and it’s hard to know if something is useful or not if you’re new to facilitation and training like this group were.

My main, and obvious, lesson here was to do it myself in advance so I know what I’m asking the group to look for and that they can find it. My assumption was two fold. My first was that because I have used the site for information gathering, it would have relevance to the group. My second was that they would know what to look for.

What was useful about trying this, though, was that the group were not against trying. What they needed were better instruction from me on what I was asking them to do. Facilitation skills 101.

My second experiment was when facilitating a group learning about coaching skills. Here, I was more purposeful and had planned a bit better what I was asking the group to do. I asked them to go on to the Mindtools website, in the search box type GROW model, click on the first result and read the description. Once they’d read the article, we had a good old bit of discussion about what they thought was important about the model, and how they thought it could help frame their questions when coaching.

I got a bit bolder with the success of that, and directed the same group to Google ‘active listening’ and we repeated the same.

I learned here that again the group were very open to using their smartphones, and pretty much everyone had one accessible to them. Some people needed a bit better support in terms of going to specific URLs and how to enlarge text on a small screen, but nothing that couldn’t be managed easily enough.

Also, it reinforced for me that the need for workbooks in learning sessions is fast becoming obsolete. As much as I enjoy writing workbooks and showing how much I know about topics, it’s just not a great use of time. Using smartphones in this way enables me to just point people in the right direction in a learning session and they’re doing exactly the same task. The difference here is that I’m introducing them to websites where they can find useful information on a range of topics, they’re navigating the website in the session so will be familiar with it later, and I just need to reference the website in a follow up email for them to remember.

I reflected later that asking the group to do this type of task also helped them gain the learning from the article that they needed personally. And, as might be expected, because everyone reads at different speeds, and takes in different information that they find resonates with them, it creates a discussion which is much more owned by the individual because of the insights they’ve already gained.

The third (and most recent) time was again with a group of managers going through coaching skills training. I asked them to do the same thing with Mindtools, and this time was faced with a challenge which didn’t arise the first time. The Mindtools website isn’t currently designed to be responsive to smartphones or other devices. On the site a pop-up window appeared which many people couldn’t navigate away from, and this happened to more than a few people. What it meant was it became a distraction from the learning intent.

I learned here that although a useful way to help share learning and craft a different kind of dialogue with the group, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. In this case I resorted to using trusty old flipchart and marker pens. Can’t go wrong with those staples of learning facilitation!

I’m still on the lookout for how to use technology in this way and ensure it stays relevant for the group, and doesn’t become a distraction from the learning intent. There’s plenty of room here to play around with how I incorporate this type of activity into the learning experience, and also how it becomes an enduring part of the learning experience. There are still a lot of people who are wedded to workbooks, and I’m really keen on how to curate content as an ongoing learning experience. As useful as online collaboration tools are, I also wonder if there’s a trick being overlooked with respect to people being ‘fed’ information via a curator of learning. Lots of wonderings here, and lots still to do.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Experiments in Social Facilitation”

  1. Sukh, I find your blog raises a lot of questions for me.

    Is searching businessballs utilsing social technologies? I’m not sure it’s more than looking a chapter up in a book…. there’s something about connection and collaboration that’s missing – I dunno, making a podcast, connecting via twitter/other some networks to have discussion etc that feels more dynamic somehow.

    I think there is something about DandI to consider here in terms of accessibility – there may be participants for eg who are dyslexic for whom searches in particular fonts can be challenging, or people with visual impairments for whom a large workbook is really helpful and having time to adapt their searches via a laptop will ensure inclusion. Or, folks like me that like something physical to read and look at that I can see as a whole. I’m curious where the thoughts about obsolescence come from? Stuff I have done recently offers me both digital and hard copy options; they have served equal value.

    Now, if we were talking icebreakers and obsolescence, I may have something to add.

    Thank you for this open sharing of your thinking; this is the best example of social technologies for learning I can think of.

    1. Hi Meg and thanks for the fantastic comment and challenge.

      You’re right when you ask if businessballs or Mindtools are actually using social technologies for learning. And on reflection, no they’re probably not.

      And I like how you highlight the collaborative aspect being missing, and this is bang on the mark. I need to consider further what I think I’m asking the group to do, and how this indeed is – or not – using social technologies as opposed to just reading an online article.

      Also, I completely didn’t consider the Diversity and Inclusion aspect of using smartphones in this way. That’s a real oversight on my part. My immediate reaction is to ask the group if they are comfortable doing this and need any particular support, but this seems too surface level. Thanks for highlighting this important aspect.

      The obsolescence was from my own mind 🙂

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