Don’t Start Out Of The Blue – Start Online

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;
  • Brainstorming;
  • Structuring ideas;
  • Providing instructions; and
  • Visualising information.
Online tools for training

Tools used

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


On Safari With Social Media Tools

At the IAF the Netherlands annual conference in June this year, Simon Koolwijk, Gerdi Keeler and I conducted the workshop On Safari with Social Media Tools – how to embed lessons learned in your learning process. In two hours we tried to share experiences of using social media in learning processes and communities as well as to give the group an idea of some of the tools we referred to. To start up the conversation we introduced a social media bingo with a variety of questions, like “Find a person in this room who has made 10 or more tweets“, “Find someone who knows possible uses of QR codes” and “Do you have 3 or more apps on your smart phone; which ones?“.

During this short exercise it became clear that we had quite a diverse group on our hands. Several participants already were quite experienced but were looking for more in-depth insights into best practices, while others were not so experienced and wanted to practise.

After a short Prezi presentation we therefore decided to split up and work in 3 smaller groups, in order to meet the different needs.

To check to what extent we had succeeded, we invited participants to share their opinions by answering 3 questions on Polleverywhere.

The main insights and ideas participants gained were:

  • There is much more possible than I thought!
  • Possibility to create a community for small groups in a learning process
  • Importance of blended learning & change (mix of online and offline learning)
  • More online meetings!
  • I want to get to know Yammer
  • To plan for use of social media tools in learning processes
  • Ideas for online and offline activities before and after face-to-face events
  • I will need to practise – I am lagging behind in the field of social media
  • Better to be proficient in a few tools, and to use them well than to try to use them all at once
  • Variety of social media tools available that can help embed results of my workshops

Tools that participants were interested in using were:

In order to start using these tools most participants indicated they would need time and patience. A few participants mentioned that they would search for more information online and just try out the selected tools. Overall, participants were satisfied with the workshop and felt they gained new ideas and inspiration to use social media in their work.

And what did I learn? It became clear to me that while there are many tools out there not that many facilitators are familiar with them or are using them in their work. Some are making use of the possibilities social media offer, but are not always satisfied with the return on their time investment in this. This may be caused by the learning process involved in getting to know tools and discovering their possible uses. But it may also be caused by a feeling that dabbling with social media is taking away precious time from the real work – and the fact that social media use is not perceived as a genuine part of that work, yet.

This attitude will change only as and when professionals will see concrete examples and best practices of how social media can actually facilitate their work and how social media make them more effective on the job. Though it is relatively easy to try out different tools on your own, it is not as easy to successfully deploy them within your organisation or learning processes. Exchanging experiences, ideas and fears in combination with practical tips on how to use certain tools, tailor-made advice regarding suitable tools for your specific situation and practising in a small (online/offline) group over a period of time, may help bridge the gap between knowing about a tool and effectively applying it. With our workshop we wanted to give a peek preview into what social media can do for your work and how useful further “training” in this area can be, also for facilitators. Looking at the positive reactions, I think we succeeded in this first step. So now – on to the next!