It isn’t really necessary to know people to start working with them online. Many of you probably have communications with people on Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+ that you have never even met – and probably never will meet. It’s not hard to exchange ideas and support each other if you share a common interest.
The same is true for people that form a group because they will all show up to your face-to-face training or event. They, too, have a common interest and even if you have never met them, you can start your work with them online before you will lay eyes on them.
In fact, starting online may even enhance the process your event or training is intended to support. You can use an online start to help your participants get to know each other and to find common ground. They can start brainstorming about certain issues, and exchange ideas and experiences. They can structure their ideas and come to conclusions. They can start reading up on materials you provide and already ask questions about these. You can even instruct them online with a screencast for instance. Or you can assess the level and areas of their knowledge via a survey.
There are many possibilities. Which aims and which tools suit your process best is a matter of careful selection and some experience. And, of course, as always: trial and error.
In the workshop Flashing Start, my colleague Gerdi Keeler and I introduced a small group of mainly trainers and educators to some easy-to-use tools that can be useful in an online start. As our main aim was to show our participants how you can engage with your group before you actually meet them, our workshop started online. During a week participants received small online assignments, each with a different aim:
- Getting to know each other;
- Structuring ideas;
- Providing instructions; and
- Visualising information.
For each aim we offered a different tool, or in some cases a few alternative tools that participants could choose from.
In the face-to-face part of the workshop we discussed the different tools and their possible uses.
Some of the more interesting points raised include:
- In a safe online environment you share more than you would have shared in a first introduction round in a face-to-face event;
- Online exchanges changes the way you think about some things;
- In a safe online environment you are together, and not alone. Even though you are all sitting behind your own devices, in your own office or home;
- In a safe online environment things start happening – conversations arise about unexpected topics;
- It is nice and fun to learn things online, to share your products and ideas and then get feedback and reactions;
- If others are contributing online there is a bigger (peer) pressure to also share something yourself;
- Positive feedback by the moderator or facilitator is extremely important.
The last point points to the biggest challenges related to online starting: the role of the facilitator.
If you plan to facilitate an online start – or any other online part in a blended curriculum or process for that matter – be prepared to invest loads of time and energy!
You will need to be available in the online environment, as well as via e-mail and phone, to deal with (technical) questions and you will need to be ‘there’ to support the process by means of positive and encouraging feedback, reflection questions, follow up assignments and questions, and so on. This is not something you can easily do on the side, at a reserved time slot. You simply need to be felt to be present all the time.
However, if you are prepared to invest the energy and time needed, you will be rewarded with great results. Your face-to-face event or training can be much more focused and to the point, and your participants are fully engaged from day zero!
If you are interested in learning more about using online tools to increase your effectiveness and to make your events and trainings more attractive and engaging, check out nul100 (in Dutch).
Flip Snack booklet about Flashing Start – part 1
Flip Snack booklet about Flashing Start – part 2