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Designing for Virtual - the Fun and the Plan B

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Ten hours of content, designed from scratch to take advantage of what online format had to offer. A brand new class with five sessions, completed in a record time, delivered to 15 people in two parallel groups. Here is what I learnt last week from this fun and hectic marathon.

Class design

I've been using 4C map to design my workshops ever since learning about it from its creator - Sharon Bowman. This is still my go-to model. However for the Agile Training/Facilitation - Virtual Edition class I was about to design, my focus was primarity on introducing an Agile-focused virtual subset of Liberating Structures. For that reason, I was curious to experiment with blending the 4C with LS String Design StoryBoard approach.

A theme of the first session - Virtual Facilitation Basics, was a perfect fit for a high-energy, engaging, "always on" TBR style. As I led the class further into learning Liberating Structures, I found myself gradually shifting the style of each next session toward a more reflective style. Collaboration with purpose. Participants were still engaged and active, but at a different level, the level you'd typically find in LS Immersion workshops.

A factor that influenced my design choice was a constraint I set for myself - to deliver10 hours of content over 4 - 5 days. What started as a major challenge, ended up creating an opportunity for a spaced practice. An interesting fact about the spaced practice - it helps our brain significantly improve long term content retention. Through active recall and sense making, the learners are able to flatten the Forgetting Curve and retain much higher percentage of the newly learnt material.

Here is a high-level class design with 19 Liberating Structures (two of which were worked on asynchroniously as a homework and then integrated into the next session).

Collaboration Tools

While many Liberating Structures can be facilitated well with Zoom and very basic tools like Google Slides and chat, the visual appeal of a well-designed digital board is hard to deny. I've picked Mural, knowing fully well about its recent outage. For that specific reason, I kept class slide decks separately and only used Mural to run activities that benefited from visual data gathering and collaborative insights generation.

Here is what I discovered while designing Mural boards for this class:

  1. One needs to start at the right level of zoom (60% - 70% seems to work best for me);

  2. Making a good use of outlines helps with organizing content. My favourite part - being able to hide the entire portions of the board (to reduce visual information overload) and then open them up at the right time, bringing an element of surprise into an activity;

  3. It helps to think in layers. What do you want to be static on your board? What needs to be "locked"? What do you want to be available to participants to sort, move around, re-arrange?

  4. Simple is better. One can get carried away designing an elaborate board, only to discover that it is too complicated for participants to use in a timebox they were given in class.

  5. Think about a user experience: can you pre-create something for them? Does your board look intuitive and easy to navigate? Do you need to provide additional instructions?


I found it useful to take advantage of the time between the sessions for starting an individual reflection parts of more complex Liberating Structures.

One of such examples was Ecocycle Planning. For that structure, I've asked class participants to map out their current skills, aspirations and learning interests along the path of Gestation --> Birth --> Maturity --> Creative destruction.

Since there was no pressure of "timebox", people could go deep and explore what's relevant to them, observe some patterns and think about how to make progress in their own Ecocycles. I had fun mapping out couple of options for my own skills and learning interestes in the Virtual Facilitation/ Training space.

If you haven't try to look at what's on your plate vs. what's in plans through an Ecocycle lens, I invite you to give it a try. Draw exactly the same diagram (with six distinct areas) on a sheet of paper. Take a sharpie, post-its and start adding skills to your ecocycle!

Plan B

Murphy's law thrives in the virtual space! Many things can and do go wrong here. A few anecdotes from my own experience from the past two month:

  1. Zoom breakout rooms malfunctioned and my participants ended up in non-existing ghost rooms.

  2. Mural went down for 14 hours on a Thursday night and affected every single trainer who moved their entire class material into its boards. (I was lucky to discover it that night and rebuild my key activities in Miro)

  3. A power blip in my house that killed Zoom session and ended a class earlier than planned.

  4. A participant, who accidentally moved all class material from a shared Dropbox into his own..

How do you recover from the issues during your sessions in the virtual space?

Do you have a plan B?

The Fun

In spite of this being a super hectic and a sleep-deprived stretch, it's been extremely rewarding. I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time and share my experience with exceptionally smart, knowledgeable and creative people. As they were learning from me, I was learning from them.


Attend our upcoming workshop on May 24 - 27, 2021

You will be delighted to see the latest version of this class!

Just for reading this blog, you can get 15% off with a special promo code BLOG15

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