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Monday, November 23, 2009

Learning from Others in the Room

After LearnTrends 2009, I received a note from a person I know and highly respect that said, “I dropped in on several sessions over the last three days and wanted to thank you for your good facilitation skills …”

It’s great to get that positive feedback, but this was actually a bit of a surprise.  I often felt during the conference that I was not doing a good job of taking advantage of the expertise that was often in the room.

This was amplified when George Siemens did a highly participatory session where he had the audience list out design considerations for several things like formal vs. informal, etc.  Some tweets during the session:

  • “opens the whiteboard up to let participants create the agenda…whoa! crazy fun! ” @chambo_online
  • “Very intrigued to have 130 people writing on a whiteboard all at once at #learntrends … and amazingly, it didn’t suck” @cynan_sez
  • “130+ people writing on same Elluminate whiteboard and GWave also being completed. Online learning has arrived” @GillianP

That session flew by and was a great use of the power in the room.  A masterful job by George.  Great stuff.  And something that I believe he and I will be doing together in the future in some way.

Other than George’s session, most of the rest of the conference had active chat, but it was limited in many ways.  The time we had for open discussion didn’t seem to achieve that much discussion.  It rambled. 

My gut tells me that if I had designed things in a particular way, we could have had some truly amazing sessions.

So, please help me so that in a month when I’m designing future online sessions, I can come back here and design something great.

What are some ways that I can facilitate meaningful learning from others in the room during online sessions?

Have you seen examples of something that was powerful?

What conversation would you have wanted to have or see?

Please comment or post with ideas.  And if you don’t have an ideas, please just retweet to ask someone else for ideas?  And maybe come back in a day and see if some of the ideas help spark other ideas for you.


Cate Poole said...

Hi Tony,
My suggestion is to structure the presentations so there are clear opportunities for participant interaction. Ask a question. Get answers. Discuss. It's kind of simple really. The problem I experienced with some of the presentations was that the a lot of people were chatting during the presentations and I couldn't follow both adequately. Information overload. I think we should take some guidance from classroom teaching and structure our learning events so that there is a good pace and a nice mix of lecture and interaction.

John said...

Boy, what a way to start a week! You really get my neurons going first thing.

I have been thinking about the event and the interaction, too. I was listening to the presenters, watching the whiteboard, following the chat, following the Wave and occasionally checking the Twitter page. Arrrraaaaggggghhhhh! Information overload.

One problem with the chat (and it is not just Elluminate, the issue is common with most or all such products) is that stuff flies by. Ideas and comments get lost. I know I missed some great stuff. Replaying the whole event to get chat synced with the content is just too much: those bits are lost. Also, comments and questions to the presenter were lost among comments between participants. Twitter has similar issues.

Wave (and yes I know it is a preview and not everyone has access) has a different model. People can respond to comments in a more threaded manner. It has structure that the other two do not. Sadly, the preview is pretty slow during the day (but wonderful at 2AM!).

The kind of interaction I am looking for, and the kind it sounds like you want, seems difficult with current tools. I'm not even sure how to model it in a physical classroom. I want to be able to throw out an idea to others while the content is fresh (i.e. while the presentation is going on); get comments and continue thinking about the idea. Some folks, though, eschew that kind of multitasking.

I'm not sure how to do this, yet, but something Wave-like is part of the start of the answer, I think.

Cate Poole said... said "I want to be able to throw out an idea to others while the content is fresh (i.e. while the presentation is going on); get comments and continue thinking about the idea."

How about we listen to the presenter, consider our own ideas internally, reflect a bit, and then share what is in our heads. I find this need to chat about every little thought in our heads when something is going on to be a bit rude to the presenter. I hope we don't abandon good listening skills in this brave new world of instant everything.

Cate Poole said...

One other thought...I don't think the challenge of learning from others in the room is an issue about tools or technology. I think it is about good facilitation.

John said...

Cate asked "How about we listen to the presenter, consider our own ideas internally, reflect a bit, and then share what is in our heads."

That's a great question and it has made me think about why I said what I did. My experience has been that presenters, myself often included, speak for a "long time" than open an event to questions. This is the "lecture model". I have been participating recently in events where there is a more "conversational" model: lots of real-time interaction closer to a discussion than a lecture. This has made me want that in the classroom, too.

When we talk, we hold our opinions until the other person stops talking, but that is often only seconds or a minute -- not the tens of minutes of the typical presentation.

I know what I am describing is a different model for learning than the traditional lecture we are used to. I'm not 100% sure how it should look online. But being able to discuss and think together greatly appeals to me. When experts start and enrich that interaction as happened last week, the time is so much more productive than a traditional lecture.

Yes, it is great to hear what experts have to say! I am not saying that we should completely eliminate presentations. But maybe shorter presentations and more conversation would be more enriching.

V Yonkers said...

I'd suggest that there be some "content" before the presentation. I think a short clip or slide show previewing the content a few days before the presentation would mean there could be more discussion and less lecture. This also allows for a more interactive presentation, perhaps allowing participants to use tools and give feedback. This also allows those that do better with reflection some time to think about the content in their own context.

I personally like the chat going on during the presentation. But I do think for the presenters it is difficult to follow the chat and present. Therefore, I think it would be important to continue to have some moderators focus on the chat and questions/issues as they come up.

I found sometimes that the issues discussed in chat were not always highlighted for the presenter during the breaks in presentation (Q&A part of the presentation). This year I did not feel there was as much follow up on the Ning as last year. I think this is important, especially for those of us who had to listen to the recorded version. It would be great if there were a technology that allowed those who weren't available for the live session to listen together and chat as they listened to the recorded session.

Tony Karrer said...

John and Cate - excellent back and forth discussion! One of the better comment streams I've seen. Luckily I wasn't presenting at the same time or it wouldn't have been as effective. :)

I agree that backchannel chat can sometimes be hard to follow and also really follow the presenter. At the same time, often the chat is where a lot of learning is taking place. Or at least thinking and processing. As a presenter, I have to ignore the chat while I'm presenting. It may be the case that we need that as well for some participants. But then you have to rely on a moderator/host to bring things back around.

@Virginia - great points.

One thing to hopefully help the conversation is to also think about the interaction opportunity given by George. I think providing that opening is somewhat how each of your are attacking the question. It's a question of opening and context and how much presentation and when. Hmmm ... almost some kind of structure out of that.

Interesting ...

Hopefully the conversation continues.

David said...

Great points by everyone here, I think. Particularly the bit about about people not blurting out the first question that comes into their heads. It so often happens that the answer is conveniently on the next slide... :)

I think the threaded responses that Wave offers is a big step forward. Time codes on the start of each thread would be a big plus here. You could easily see what led to the question. That would also lead to be able to follow only the discussions of interest in the back channel and not have to sift through everything that is written there.

The presenter can also follow up unanswered or 'hot' topics in the Q&A at the end.

The presenter really needs to have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve. Didactic is not dead and is exactly what some audiences want and need. Other audiences appreciate (George's) daring and creativity in setting them loose on the whiteboard.

I missed that session but I'm sure it was fun. I am also sure it wouldn't have worked in every session and would not have been appropriate in every session.

I think it's all about the audience and the goals of the session.

As usual :)

Tony Karrer said...

David - good points.

As I'm thinking about this, it would seem that there has to be a few different frameworks out there that could be used. Or at least a few known models that we could consider.

Gary said...

I am also suggesting the same thing.The discussion should be treated as a classroom teaching.

First ask the question, get the answer and then discuss. Allow everyone to express his views. Try to avoid the situation like group discussion.
With this method presentation will be more successful.

lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lori said...

Hi Tony, great job moderating at the conference! I found your contributions bang on.
I feel there needs to be at least 1, if not 2 moderators watching the chat for poignant questions and bringing conversations back around. If not possible, maybe the presenter could make a point of asking participants to jot down "significant" questions on paper and ask them with the mic at the appropriate time? This often generates authentic dialogue with others jumping in on the mic, too, and sharing supplemental info or links in the chat.
Also, I have always found inviting participants to brainstorm on the whiteboard, application share, use the mic, vote in a poll all to be very engaging activities, both as facilitator and participant (provided the presenter is comfortable using the tools).
One thing I think we tend to over look is a time allowance/gap for participants to formulate a question, answer the presenter, etc. Online we lack the body language and visual cues we normally rely on for comprehension and participation. Those can feel like deadly long pauses, but they really are necessary for processing. Suddenly switching gears into production mode either via chat, audio, whiteboard or poll is asking a lot of our human brains :)
Repetition of q's is essential as well, as admittedly we are all multi-tasking just by following the chat and presentation simultaneously.