Video and transcript from Erik Skogsberg ‘s talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Erik Skogsberg.

The last lightning speaker of the day was Voltage Control’s own Erik Skogsberg speaking on how the best learning experiences are learner-focused. Erik informed the group that the best facilitators, whether they know it or not, are Learning Experience Designers (LXDs). LXDs bring the best of user experience design and the learning sciences to bear on creating transformation: whether in a meeting, presentation, workshop, or course. Participants were guided through some hands-on practice in these methods for use in a meeting, workshop, or training of their own and then were introduced to how to design for better learning experiences and lasting change in their future facilitation work.

“It is up to the facilitator to move and adjust to the learners in the room.”

Watch Erik Skogsberg’s talk “Learn to Transform” :

Read the Transcript

Erik Skogsberg:

All right. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, everybody. It’s such a pleasure to be talking with you this morning. As Kiera mentioned, I’m the VP of Learning Experience for Voltage Control, where I am specifically focused on helping facilitators grow in their work. And this morning, I’m going to be talking about how taking a learning experience approach to your work and a learning design approach to your work could really be a helpful way for you to level up and for you to ultimately create better meetings, more transformative workshops, and overall a more lasting change.

So I’m Erik and I help people design lasting transformation in my work now. But I started out as a high school English teacher. I ultimately was working with high school students, working with high school English classes. And that’s where I first cut my teeth on what was ultimately where I ended up going with, with learning experience design.

I got an early in education how to facilitate and design experiences, especially when people didn’t want to be there. Because if you remember in the U.S. public schools, we have a compulsory system. So you truly have a captive audience when it comes down to it. And I can remember in my first year of teaching, one of the most sort of impactful experiences I had, I was so bright-eyed and ready to go and I was teaching in a credit recovery course, which is basically for students who had failed the first two years of English in middle school, or really the system had had failed them. And they didn’t feel like school had much to offer, grades weren’t a motivator.

And early on, I can remember quietly going up to a young woman during a journal writing exercise and asking her to, “Could you please get out your journal?” And her immediate response to me was flipping over her desk, walking right out of classroom. And I saw her walk immediately off campus. I quickly found out at that moment that teaching and my facilitation had to be about relationship. It couldn’t just be about the material. It couldn’t be just about the activities that we’re doing. And it had to be about creating a space that participants and learners wanted to be, and that they had to have ownership and buy-in in order for us to work together.

It was some of these early experiences that were so fundamental now to how I approach my work as a facilitator and in how I design training experiences for growing facilitators themselves. I was learning at that point that ultimately, designing learning is about designing relationship and designing change. And fundamentally that any change process is about designing a learning process. Change and learning can be extremely hard, can be extremely difficult for us to do. But it’s ultimately possible to help design people there. So this morning, I want you to ask yourselves, how are you designing learning experiences into your work? How are you setting up those relationships with participants? How are you thinking about participants based on where you’re hoping that they could go? Fundamentally, the best learning experiences are learner-focused, they ultimately are designed backwards, they are motivating, they are assessed, and they provide mixed practice opportunities.

Learner-focused, what I mean here is that you’re actually taking to account who’s in the room with you. What do they need? Where are you hoping to go with them? When you’re designing learning experiences backwards, it means that you have a real key focus on where you’re hoping to be with those learners or those participants by the end of your meeting, by the end of your training, by the end of what you are doing with them.

The best learning experiences are motivating. So at the end of the day, you know what your learners need and you’re setting things up in a way that will motivate them to want to engage there. The best learning experiences are assessed. And by assessed, I mean you have a clear sense of where you’re hoping to go, what it looks like when you and learners have been successful in getting there, and you have key points along the way where you have good signals as to whether you’re moving in the direction you hope to go. And then finally, the best learning experiences provide mixed practice opportunities. When it comes down to it, the science around learning points to how important it is to provide learners with multiple and mixed opportunities to apply what they are learning in different situations, to come back to things that you introduced earlier and try it out in new ways to retrieve that information at multiple points or those skills at multiple points that ultimately moves them in a direction that has them applying it in their real practice.

For this morning’s talk, I’m just going to highlight a few of these. And for folks who are really interested in digging in deeper, you can come out to my workshop this afternoon. So we’ll dig into what it means to be learner-focused, designed backward and assessed. So here’s a question for you, so key when it comes down to any facilitated experience, who are your learners? Or who are your participants? Who’s coming into that room? Who are you creating this meeting, who are you creating this training, who are you creating this workshop for? Who are they? What do they need? Because when it comes down to it, this is where differentiating your learning is so key, or differentiating your design is so key. Learning should be set up based on the learners who are there. And you should be setting things up in a way that can meet a whole variety of unique needs that they have.

Ways that you can differentiate learning for a variety of learners. You can, first off, start by getting to know who’s going to be in the room with you, so depending upon the context that you’re working in. This could mean a survey beforehand. This could mean a Google form. This could mean Poll Everywhere or a polling tool right in the middle of a session that could quickly give you a pulse on who’s in the room and what they need.

You can further differentiate based on what you come to know about the people in your sessions by providing mixed modes and access points for those learning experiences. So when I say mixed modes, I’m meaning that you’re giving people an opportunity to do some individual work, to talk in small groups, to work, if we’re talking about virtual, in MURAL, to get into Zoom breakout rooms, that you’re providing multiple different ways for folks to access material and to engage with one another. Because based on the needs of your participants or learners, they’re not all going to engage in the same way. So by providing those multiple access points, you can make sure that you’re meeting those multiple needs in a variety of ways.

Scaffolding and checking in as you go. When I say scaffolding, I mean, when your participants come in to your work, they aren’t oftentimes all at the same place. Or as facilitators, oftentimes, we have what’s been called kind of the curse of knowledge or the curse of mastery. We forget what it means to be starting from the beginning. And so by really beginning with where your learners are, you’re going to make sure that you build steps to get them to the point where they’re ready to engage in a new approach or a new experience. Because too often, I think facilitators forget that the folks in the room are not in the same place that you are.

Another way that you can differentiate and know where learners are when it comes to the work that you’re doing, as you can circulate around virtually in breakout rooms and be keeping track of what’s going on in MURAL boards, or once we’re back in a face-to-face space, just moving around tables, listening in, hearing what folks are engaging in, questions that they have.

And then finally, differentiation, it really comes down to adjusting your facilitation approaches based on your purpose and your outcomes. So if you see that the folks in the room, the participants that you’re working with, the learners that you’re working with aren’t ultimately engaging in what you’re hoping or in the ways you’re hoping they’d engage. Or if you’re your outcomes that you set out where you’re hoping to go with them, you’re seeing that they’re going in a different direction, that means that it’s time to adjust and make changes. That’s ultimately the awesome power and responsibility of us as facilitators, to really move based on what our participants need.

Another key question for you to ask when it comes down to effective, impactful learning and facilitation design is, where are you hoping to go? So we started with who are our learners, or who are our participants? The second question you should be asking is, where are you hoping to go with them? What ultimately does success look like on the other end of this meeting, on the other end of this training, on the other end of this experience? And really having a clear sense of what that is. Where are those participants at the very end? What are they now saying? What are they now doing? What are they now feeling? What are they able to do? What do they ultimately value? This then can be a really helpful anchor for you in the decisions you make as a facilitator, and ultimately in the activities that you set up.

 So this is a principle in learning design, called backward design. So essentially starting with the end and then designing backwards from there. What does it mean to build to this ultimate end point that we are hoping for? And a question that I’ll oftentimes ask facilitators or learning experience designers when it comes to backward design is ultimately, what do you hope participants will know, value and be able to do at the end of your work together? And then finally, how will you know if you got there? What does that look like? How do you see that in the experience? What are participants creating or doing or saying that would be a good signal for you?

To design backwards ultimately means having a clear vision for where you’re hoping to end up. Okay. What do you hope participants will be able to do, know, say, feel? Communicating with participants a clear purpose for the work, so really inviting them in. This is something that really helps to build some of that safety that we were talking about earlier for learning that helps learners ultimately know that they are a part of the experience and can be a part of articulating how they are connected to the purpose.

And then finally, regularly re-anchoring your work that you’re doing with them in the vision and purpose that you laid out. So oftentimes, right, we’ll be going through activities and maybe as facilitators, I see this often, we’re so focused on getting through activities that we don’t ultimately come back to the purpose. Why we’re doing what we’re doing in service of where we’re going? And that’s something that you can do just as a quick check-in point at key moments across your work to remind both participants and yourself of where you’re ultimately going in the work. And that helps folks ultimately see why they’re doing what you’re doing.

You can design backwards by using tools like Voltage Control’s Learning Experience Design Canvas, which I’ll be walking folks through and we’ll be using in the workshop this afternoon, or tools like SessionLab, real powerful tool for agenda design and really laying out the arc of our facilitation and our meetings and our trainings to really make sure that we’ve designed backwards from where learners begin to where we’re hoping that they’d be by the end. And then again, this is something that I mentioned a little bit earlier, course correcting or making adjustments as needed, which is so important.

 So we talked about who are your learners or who are your participants, where are you hoping to go. And then a third key question here which is really about assessment is, how will you know if you’re going where you’re hoping to go? Right? What are those signals that tell you, “Yes. With my participants here, we’re going in the right direction. I’ve got a clear sense that they’re taking the steps that I hoped. And we’re getting well on our way to that final point where I’m hoping we could be, those outcomes that we had had set.” And so this is where we talk about assessment points, those points at which we have a real clear indication or evidence that we’re going in the right direction. In some transformation design, this is also called artifact trails. What are those artifacts that we see along the way that are key indicators that a change is ultimately happening?

And assessment here, especially formative assessment, provides essential feedback for you as a facilitator and your learners. When I say formative, there’s a couple of different types of assessment when it comes to learning design. There’s summative assessment which is assessment of learning, something that happens oftentimes by the end of an experience, something that people produced by the end of the workshop that’s sort of a final piece of their work. And then there’s formative assessment which is assessment for learning. Those are those little check-in points along the way that tell you and learners, “Here’s where they are”, so you can respond in the moment. Because too often, I think we save those moments for the end, when we can’t ultimately respond at that point. Whereas in the middle of a meeting or a workshop, we can make some adjustments if we have those clearly out.

So what does this look like in practice? Based on your outcomes, you want to create multiple points where you can check in for understanding and those markers of progress along the way. You can assess by mixing both of these approaches together, both formative and summative approaches. You can watch the signals that come up. If we’re talking about the virtual, on MURAL, just watching cursors as they go around, watching the stickies as they’re being created. You can check in on Zoom and really pay attention to how folks are engaging there. And even on chats, as that goes. It’s really important to check in between modules or new activities or new directions that you’re going when it comes to your meeting or your training to see where folks are.

Circulating between breakouts, something that I’m oftentimes working with facilitators on, especially in the virtual setting. Too often, folks are in that main room versus actually jumping around to those breakout rooms and listening in for indicators that those participants and those learners are ultimately going in the directions that you’d hoped. And then finally, the summative piece. Finally, after all these interim check-ins, then gather those final products, then gather those final artifacts, then gather that end of meeting report out that ultimately tells you that, “Hey, we got to where we’re hoping to go.”

These three approaches, and we’ll dig in more this afternoon in the workshop, are a key way for you to ultimately realize here and reinforce that learning, when it comes down to it and designing learning in this approach, is ultimately about designing change, designing transformation. And the flip of that here, that designing change is ultimately about designing learning. Any change that we are engaging in, any work that we’re engaging in with our teams, with folks in our workshops is ultimately about trying to design a learning experience. Something that gets them from one point where they enter that experience to a very different point by the time they are done with that. And there’s plenty of indicators along the way that help both you and them see that you’re going in that direction

That ultimately, here, change and learning can be difficult, right? There’s a whole bunch of different ways, that we as human beings ultimately struggle with change because it’s hard. But ultimately, it’s possible to design there through, again, starting with who are your learners, where are you hoping to go with them, and what will tell you if you’re ultimately going in that direction with them, what are those indicators that help you to see that you’re going in that right direction? So at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, for you and your facilitation work, ask yourself, how are you ultimately designing learning experiences?

Thank you for your time this morning. And I look forward to seeing you this afternoon in my Learn to Transform workshop.