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Oppida raises the bar in online education

Online Facilitation with Jo Cook

In this discussion, Bianca Raby welcomes Jo Cook, an expert in online facilitation, and asks for advice on facilitating live online sessions. Jo emphasises the importance of learning the technical aspects of the platform being used and keeping up with updates. It is crucial to remove technical barriers to ensure a smooth learning experience. Jo also highlights the significance of observing participants’ digital body language and engagement cues, both through webcams and chat interactions. 

online facilitation

To re-engage participants, Jo suggests incorporating regular interactions and asking for feedback or summarising key points. The conversation concludes with a discussion on upcoming technology advancements focused on enhancing engagement and human connection in online facilitation. The goal is to create a blended learning experience where facilitators support learners and encourage active participation.

About Jo:

About Lightbulb Moment:


BIANCA: Hi, and welcome to this awesome discussion I’m going to have with Jo Cook of Lightbulb Moment. Could you introduce yourself quickly, Jo, to the viewers, and then we’ll get started.

JO: Hello, everybody. My name is Jo, and for the last 10 years, I’ve run the Lightbulb moment. And what we do, is we help teams of people design and deliver really great virtual classrooms and webinars. 

BIANCA: Awesome, how succinct! You’ve done that a few times. So, I really loved when I met Jo because she’s really specialist, and she’s really specialist in online facilitation. So, my first question to you, Jo, is what is the first piece of advice you give someone who’s never facilitated something live online? 

JO: It’s really boring and I’m really sorry, but it’s: learn the tech. ‘How do I price?’ ‘How do I get my presentation up if I’m using one?’ ‘How do I mute?’ ‘How do I see chat?’ and those kinds of things because if you don’t know that stuff, it’s going to get in the way. We always talk in our training about removing the technical barriers. So, you know, there’s loads of other advice I’d love to give you as well, but learning the tech has to be right up there. And whether it’s Teams or Zoom or Adobe connect, Webex, it doesn’t really matter. But also, if you’ve used one, you’ve got to learn another one. It’s different. So always make sure, even if it’s not your first time, that you know where it is. All the platforms are changing and updating all the time, so it’s always worth just taking a look and going ‘Is the button still where I expect it to be?’ 

BIANCA: Exactly, there’s nothing worse than watching someone stumble through trying to find the button. And we’ve all been even there, the face to face delivery where somebody can’t figure out how to turn on the computer. And you’re like, ‘Really? Really? We have to watch you do this?’ 

JO: Planning, preparation – it’s all the boring stuff, but it works, it’s important.

BIANCA: It does work. And I guess it’s connected to that idea of… You don’t want to be putting any barriers to the learning. So, you don’t want people to be annoyed with you and have any bad will before you’ve even started teaching, right? 

JO: Absolutely and we’ve done research on this. People hate when the facilitator doesn’t know how to use the tech. They hate when a session isn’t designed for virtual. And it’s obvious. You know from your point of view, if you pick up a presentation and you’re making it for an e-learning module, you’ve got to do stuff to it. So, just in the same way that you have to for a virtual classroom, you can use all the skills you have, but you need to layer some new ones on top because it is different. 

BIANCA: It is different. And so, what have you’re in a facilitation and you’re doing all the things right, but you’re feeling like everybody’s disengaging, or there’s a few people that are, kind of like, turning the cameras off, or you can see some eyes glazing over? What’s your go to strategy to get people back online and excited?

JO: So I really love that you’ve got in there about digital body language, about observation, because that’s a key part of any training and we can do it live online with webcams, but also we can do it through what’s going on in chat. ‘What did they answer in a poll?’ ‘Who put something on the whiteboard?’ So when people are starting to disengage, sometimes it’s about… I just have to be confident that this delivery is what I need to do and I need to get through the next few slides because it’s important. There’s a certain amount of confidence that you need to have. But also if you’re thinking, OK, I’m kind of losing them, is it because I haven’t done anything in ages because we have something that we recommend – an interaction every three to five minutes. And if you’re at seven, eight, nine, 10 minutes, I’m like, well, no wonder that kind of yawning at you. But also, what you might think is ‘I’m not sure if this is landing’. ‘I’m talking about topic x, but are they confused?’ ‘Are they bored?’ ‘I just don’t know.’ So, if we don’t know, the key thing is to ask. So, you don’t necessarily have to be like, ‘oh, you’re all bored, what’s going on?’ But we could just kind of stop and use all our great facilitation skills we have. Even something really simple, like ‘what is one word you would use to summarise what I’ve just been talking about?’ Or, you know, if there was a new person you were teaching… ‘What’s one key point from what I’ve said you would do?’ Any of a million different questions. Get them involved is the key thing. 

BIANCA: Sounds like, just like in the phase space environment, you need to care where you can draw it at any moment. The problem online is that sometimes you are talking down into what feels like a vortex, right? So you have to be a little bit more mindful, of those little subtle behaviours that you can see on the online space. And so my final question I always love asking this is like, ‘What are you most excited about in your niche space of online facilitation when it comes to the technology that’s coming forward?’ What gets you really excited about how are we going to be able to move forward with delivery online? 

JO: I mean, there’s loads of stuff coming out around the different apps that we can use. So Zoom is being really good, Adobe Connect is being really good about… OK, so you’ve got Mentimeter, Muriel, Miya, whatever it might be, but you can use it inside the platform. You don’t have to click the link and go away. Yeah, so that’s really good to integrate stuff. Other stuff is a bit behind, like Teams. Yay! There’s whiteboards you can use externally. It’s taken a while but they’ve got there. But teams as a meeting tool, it’s not a virtual training tool. I think the key thing, though, is that a lot of the technology that we’re seeing coming through, and there’s some stuff coming through from some of the platforms are saying that’s to be released very soon, is actually really focusing on the engagement, really focusing on what we call the human connection. Because yeah, we’ve got to learn the tech. Yeah, there’s some really nice stuff here. But this always comes back to human connection. We’re in a live situation, so therefore we need to respect people’s time and we need to use it well. And that time is not spent well by me lecturing you. I could send you a video or a document. What that time is useful for is discussion, activity, exploration and having a learning experience. And you only do that human to human. So that’s where the technology is going that I’m really looking forward to. 

BIANCA: Awesome it sounds like the tech has caught up with the concept of pure blended learning. Yay! And now we need to make sure as designers that we are supporting them because that is one of our jobs at Oppida is to support the designing in of the blended experience, which is to allow for someone like you to come in, facilitate really well, but have make sure that everything beforehand is done so that they’re ready to be active. 

JO: And then everybody’s got the resources. You know, we talk about a process, but you don’t want to hear me deliver 10 minutes on it, go read that, go reference it afterwards when you need to do something. And go, ‘what? What was step three again?’ Go and find it. You don’t need me to lecture that to you that you’re going to forget, quite frankly. It’s more important to know ‘when do I apply that? How might I apply that? What if it goes wrong? And all those other things.

BIANCA: Yeah and to hear those stories, right? To get that engagement. Awesome well, I wish you were my online facilitator. I can’t wait to work with you in a more formal setting soon. Thank you so much, Jo, for your time today to talk to us about the best kind of ways to online facilitate. 

JO: Thank you so much for asking me. It’s been a pleasure.

facilitating online learning