Living in the country for most of life I have often been envious of the professional development opportunities and professional association meetings available to my city counterparts. The ability to finish work and join an event with like minded professionals when you work in regional areas requires planning, travel and time.
For years I have been using web based “on line rooms” to deliver training, facilitate and run meetings with regional participants. My first attempt was in the early 2000’s when we ran a Government funded trial using the school of the air system to provide training for rural women in South Australia. The success of this pilot and the seeing the excitement for women being given an opportunity from the home office inspired me to persist with the technology – which still often lets us down.
As the technology is getting cheaper, easier and more accessible to use I have decided to combine my passion for mentoring and developing people with this virtual technology.
And so the Coo-ee Collective has been founded! Initially Coo-ee will focus on providing virtual mentoring for groups of people in agriculture and regions, other products will be added over time.
Our pilot mentoring group is well underway with seven rural women from across Australia and one from New Zealand meeting once a month to provide support, inspiration and share ideas with each other. Susie Green from SA is one of the participants – her comments are below…
“Coo-ee Collective has overcome geographical barriers to provide me with a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded rural women from across Australia and New Zealand. It provides a safe, structured and supportive environment to share experiences and emotions without judgement, competition or jealousy. It allows participants to be vulnerable without fear of shame and support each other as we work through challenges.” – Susie Green
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Using technology for workshops is something I have been doing for many years, running webinars and having guest speakers Skype into a workshop session. Earlier this year we attempted this differently with one of our participants, Jeanette Gellard, joining on Skype from South Korea for a full two days. Quite an achievement for Jeanette when the rest of the group were all face to face in a rather noisy room in a city hotel and the workshop was very interactive!
We simply connected the iPad to a speaker and had a headset on hand for practice activities. Fortunately the internet didn’t let us down and the participant enjoyed the experience and the interaction with the group.
Here are Jeanette’s comments about the experience…..
When is too far away, really too far way? Over the last few years I’ve come to realise that the answer to that question is, Never! Thanks to the development of our communications technology, distance no longer needs to be the barrier that it once was. Skype, Facetime, Viber, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, GoTo Meeting and a plethora of other software programs and applications make it relatively easy to stay connected to others. Whether its video, audio, text or image based our capacity to communicate with others and participate in events is really only limited by our access to a good quality internet connection and a device that runs the relevant program or application.
Living in South Korea I have the privilege of being able to access some of the fastest internet connections in the world. What this means in a practical sense is that I get high quality video streamed through my computer or smart-phone which allows me to participate ‘virtually’ in a range of activities from workshops and study tutorials to conversations with friends and family ‘over a cup of coffee’. Over the past six months I’ve ‘attended’ two workshops in Adelaide, South Australia from the comfort of my apartment in Busan, South Korea, some 7,853 km away! Both events were successful from my perspective due to the following key elements.
- The openness of the workshop organisers in considering the inclusion of a ‘virtual’ participant
- The setup of the workshop area which enabled me to see presenters and also for other participants to be aware that I was ‘in attendance’
- The delivery of presentation material prior to or during the workshop via email so that I had the same information as everyone else
- Having a ‘buddy’ who checked up on me throughout the workshop (Could I hear? Could I see? Did I want to say anything?)
- The acceptance of the other workshop participants in having a ‘virtual’ classmate and their willingness to engage with me on a one-on-one basis using the available technology. This included participants randomly ‘dropping by’ to chat with me during workshop breaks.
- Being included in group photos!
From my end there were a couple of things that I put in place to ensure that my participation would be as positive as possible.
- I set myself up in a quiet spot away from distractions and noise
- Used the mute button on my microphone when I wasn’t speaking to make sure any background noise at my end (paper shuffling, typing, heavy breathing…..) wasn’t distracting other workshop participants
- Kept my device on charge throughout the workshop
So next time you think something is too far away to attend, think again! Ask the organisers whether it’s possible to make a ‘virtual’ appearance. Jeanette Gellard, Innovative Influences email@example.com
When planning any training or extension events for adults consider what’s important for them to learn. The pioneer of adult learning was Malcolm Knowles, he identified the six principles of adult learning provided below.
1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
- Encourage adults to take an active role in their own learning. Recognise their individual motivations for participating and remember we resist learning when we feel forced to participate.
- Time spent establishing the group at the beginning to build trust is time well spent. It builds rapport with you as the facilitator/trainer and with the other members of the group encouraging participants to be actively involved. It can also provide an insight into the individuals motivations for attending.
- Encourage participants to share and explore ideas before providing the facts.
- Give constructive useful feedback – however, before doing this check in with the participants to ensure they are open to receiving it.
- Choose activities that are relevant to the participants work and life.
- Consider preferred learning styles of participants and cater for all types –VARK Learning Styles
2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. This may include work-related activities, family, previous education and general life experience.
- Ask them to share their experiences about the topic and help them to connect their learnings with their work/life experiences.
- Listen carefully to the experiences shared and relate this to the theory.
- Adults learn as much from others in the room as they do from the trainer – provide opportunities to talk and share experiences.
3. Adults are goal-oriented
- Ask them about their personal expectations / goals for the activity. Record these and reflect back on them during the workshop – are their goals being met? Check in at the end of the workshop to see if they have been achieved.
- Be clear about your goals and outcomes for the workshop/activity.
- Show them how specific learning experiences may fit with their goals.
4. Adults are relevancy-oriented
- Provide choices for participants where appropriate so they can choose what they consider to be the most relevant to their circumstances.
- Explain the relevance of activities you ask participants to do.
- Relate theory to practical experiences and outcomes.
5. Adults are practical. They like to be able to apply their knowledge
- Provide them with opportunities to visit trials or demonstrations – get them out in the field.
- Include speakers who have been successful in applying the theory to explain or show how it worked in their circumstances.
- Include practical activities where ever possible.
- No-one likes to sit and listen all day! Especially farmers who are used to being active and outside.
6. Adult learners like to be respected for the considerable life experiences they bring.
- Treated them as equals.
- Provide opportunities for them to voice their own opinions.
- Let them plan their next steps and take responsibility for their learning journey.
- Provide support through coaching and mentoring.
Finally adults come along to training events and activities to network and meet other like minded people. Ensure everyone has the chance to introduce themselves to the group, provide clear easy to read name tags and allow time in the breaks for networking.
Guest Blog by Sharon Honner
Am I the right person for the job? This question is always at front of mind when accepting a facilitation role.
It can be a little more complicated when asked to facilitate a group you are part of as a volunteer. The complication or conflict occurs because a facilitator should be clearly differentiated from a participant.
When being asked to facilitate as a volunteer I ask myself the following questions:
- What is more beneficial – for me to facilitate or participate?
- It is really important to spend the time to assess the impact of being removed from the group as a facilitator.
- Do I have the right facilitation skills to be an asset to the process?
- There are many facilitation methods and processes, do I have what is required to meet the groups outcomes in a timely and professional manner.
- If I do facilitate, can I leave my personal agenda’s at the door?
- When I am part of a group, I am there because I am passionate and have points of view I may wish to share.
It is not only being able to leave my personal agenda’s at the doors, there may be other concerns within the group to make it difficult to facilitate, for example:
- Is there an air of distrust or bias exists within the group? When this exists individuals will be more concerned with having their point of view heard rather than understanding others
- Do some members of the group feel intimidated and as a consequence will not participate?
- Are there any personal rivalries?
- Do set decision making processes are in pl, when a group has been together for a while they may already have processes that work well for them
- What are the time restraints on the outcome
- Some of the group believe coming together is often a waste of time as the meetings are unproductive
Filling the role with the right person will make decision making and problem solving go smoothly. If any of the above sound familiar, it is often preferable to use a facilitator who is not a group member.
I was asked recently what a facilitator should have in their toolkit. Hence today I thought I would go back to basics.. what does the facilitator/trainer need in their tool box?
- Permanent markers – I like Mr Sketch coloured markers
- White board markers & eraser
- Blu tack to put up flip charts around the room
- Flip charts, or as I call it butchers paper
- Masking tape – great for name tags, it stays on rather than falling off!
- Post it notes
- Highlighter pens
- Coloured markers for participants
- Spare pens for participants who forget to bring their own
- Data projector, power board and extension cord if required
- A whiteboard that doubles as a flip chart stand
For the facilitation sessions
- Cheap plastic table cloth
- 3M repositional glue
- A5 paper
- Black markers – enough for every member of the group
- Coloured dots, helpful for prioritising and voting
- Large post it notes can be very useful too
And the extra bits
- Pipe cleaners for the kinaesthetic learners to play with
- Balls and toys
- A clear clock to put on the desk so its easy to keep track of the time without looking constantly at our watch!
- A bell can be handy when working with large groups to get their attention or change tasks – be aware not to over use it
- Timer for short activities
- Note books/paper for participants if required
- Camera/phone to capture some piccs or take photos of the information generated by the group
- A speaker to play music in the breaks or sound for videos
And to easily move all of this about, a box on wheels is very useful.What else do people have in their toolkit?
In the last two weeks I have attended two very contrasting workshops. Both were delivered by internationally recognised speakers, both with very different energy impacts and outcomes for me, as the participant.
The first was delivered by a motivational keynote speaker. It was high energy and high impact, I left each day with my head buzzing, excited by what I had learned and looking forward to the following day. I even had trouble sleeping at night as the concepts were rolling around in my head keeping me awake. Since leaving the workshop (now nearly two weeks ago) I am still thinking about what I learnt and how I can apply into my work.
I left the second workshop feeling grounded and rather tired. The presenter didn’t provide energy from the front of the room and wasn’t able to extract the energy from the participants either. I’m sorry to say I would be unable to recall some of the main points from this workshop and it was more recent that the first.
There were some similarities between the speakers – both were passionate about their topic, both delivered a similar number of points in the same timeframe, both used stories and both asked us to discuss their key points with the person beside us. A similar workshop framework being used and yet such a different impact on me as the participant.
What did I take away from this experience – it was an important reminder that we learn and remember more when the learning is attached to emotion. Emotion for me is connected to the energy and enthusiasm of the presenter.
I’m not suggesting we should all go over the top and be “cheerleaders”. However we do need to think about our own energy levels and the impact we are having on our participants. What works for us will not work for everyone.
Experiment with your own energy level at the front of the room, watch and monitor the group reactions.
From now on when I develop my session plans I will include a new column “energy” and determine for each section the energy level I believe is required and how this can be achieved for the group. Varying the energy level throughout the day to maximise learning, I will also include this in my personal workshop review.
I would be interested in your comments about the energy levels of presenters – when does it become exhausting? what is too much or too little? How do you change your energy for groups?
“To lead a workshop we must first understand the people who are in it.” A wise quote from Brian Stanfield.
If we are asked to conduct a workshop for a client group one of our important tasks is to find out about the people who will be participating so we can prepare appropriately with their needs in mind.
The ORID provides a good framework for thinking this through, starting with the facts. How many people will be in the group? How long have they been associated with this organisation? What age demographic are they? What are their qualifications? What time of the day do they normally attend work? What is their knowledge of this topic?
Followed by some reflective questions; What is the mood of the group in relation to this topic? What are the personality styles of the members of the group? How are they feeling about participating? How cohesive are they as a team? What barriers may get in the way of their participation?
And some interpretive questions; How important are the outcomes to the group? What are they keys/influences to how the group operates? What previous experiences have they had with this type of process? How well do they respect each other and work as a team?
Armed with this knowledge a facilitator can then go through the decisional phase and plan the process to engage the group. How will I build the group rapport? How will I engage all styles? What processes will I use to engage the group? What behaviours will I need to be aware of and have strategies to manage should they arise?
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