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3 Key insights on delivering Engaging Online Workshop

29 Aug 2020, Lye Yen Kai, Pivotal Learning Pte Ltd

Covid-19 is really a wake-up call for us to Unlearn and explore what we need to Learn. Over the years, we been delivering face-to-face workshops with a consistently high level of engagement and interactivity. Beyond looking at delivering content, we invest a large amount of energy in designing LEARNING EXPERIENCES. Since April, we have been attending many workshops and learning from others how they were utilising online platforms to continue teaching and learning. We were in the process of UNLEARNING what we knew and we are not just LEARNING what come may; instead we were deliberately exploring what need to be learnt. The selectiveness works as we didn't just plug and play what others were teaching. We went back to our core and asked "WHO WE ARE? HOW ARE WE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?".


After months of hard work, it is paying off. Since May, we had delivered more than 10 runs of online workshops to more than 250 trainers, lecturers and facilitators. Our youth arm - Pivotal Youth is now delivering online workshops to more than 100 participants at a time in each session. None were webinars and none were lectures - all were experiential in nature. We went back to our core belief that learning should be about experiences and not just knowledge”.


We are now in the process of designing PLAYSHOP – a specially curated workshop to train practitioners in playing a range of games and activities using ZOOM. This are NOT the usual "Please introduce your name and favourite colour” or “Find an object to share" type of games, but much more.  In this article, I would like to share 3 insights we have gained through this journey thus far that has allowed us to create the results we are having.

Insight 1 - Breakout of our own ZOOM Box

We are such a face-to-face and connecting with people type of company, the idea of seeing our participants in 2D really didn't sit well in us. Plus for the longest time, we resisted to online learning as most are webinar based, play a video and you watch, etc. That was the box we put ourselves in.

Our core tells us that we must make the online learning as experiential as possible. Knowledge can be gained by reading, but experiences must be experienced. With that deeply ingrained belief, we crashed ZOOM many times, we asked weird questions like:

  • What need to be done if I want to design an activity that "toss" object?
  • Can I play Tag Game?
  • I really want to allow participants to move from group to group.
  • Let's try allowing participants from different breakout rooms talk to each other.
  • It would be amazing if we can put participants in different breakout rooms, yet allow them to see each other.
  • I need to do role play, so I need to be in multiple breakout room at the same time.

Some have been answered, some we are still trying to figure out. Fundamentally, we were challenging ourselves out of our own BOX. Do you know by using these features in ZOOM, you can answer some of these questions?

  • Hide Self-View
  • Rename participants
  • Making participants co-host.
  • Video ON/OFF

Insight 2 - Don't Talk Beyond 10min

Human Beings have a limited attention span. As much as we have tons of good content to deliver, we respect this limitation. Frequently, LESS IS MORE, SLOW IS FAST. Instead of doing more "telling", we focus much more on designing learning experiences and giving participants time to meaning make.

Carefully designed learning experiences, allow participants to experience nuances in the subject we cover. This makes it interesting for them to consolidate and reflect. It will take much more time to explain how to design good Learning Experiences, but consolidation and reflection are as critical as the Learning Experience itself. And can be easily done in online sessions by:

  • Giving participants sufficient “silent time” to jot down notes
  • Giving participants sufficient time to reflect on question
  • Putting them in breakout room to share
  • Assigning a different question to each breakout room and letting participants choose which questions they want to explore.

Insight 3 - Make Learning a 2-Way Process

In our face-to-face workshops, we do lots of pair sharing and big group discussions. In an online setting, this would mean sending participants to breakout rooms and then bringing them back again. Some may find this to be too distracting or time-consuming.

However, there is a critical belief we have about learning. The way of saying "ANY QUESTIONS? NO ONE ASKING, I TAKE IT THAT YOU ALL UNDERSTOOD!" really didn't cut it for us. 

There are multiple levels for us to make learning 2-way. On one level, it is a form of engagement. On another level, it is giving participants space and time to process their thoughts through conversations with others. Yet on another level, which is critical for us, such conversations and discussions is a form of assessment for learning. The thoughts, ideas and dialogue they produce is a form of feedback and helps us to understand how much has been learnt.

There, we ensure that once every 30 minutes, we would use a different means to get our participants to respond to us. These include:

  • Polls
  • Using the Annotate function on our specially designed slides
  • Using Mentimeter
  • Ask participants to type their response first and then all hit ENTER at the same time
  • Using the Reaction button (emoji)

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