Groupwork Centre Blog

Connection before content – making online learning enriching!

As I search the phrase “Zoom fatigue”, I am unsurprisingly horrified when almost ten million results arrive! This phrase, barely whispered before the pandemic, is now widely used to describe the exhaustion from attending too many online meetings.

So as facilitators and educators, how can we reduce this pixelated fatigue and create engaging and energising online sessions?

This feels like an important question for us to address because online facilitation, and collaboration won’t be left behind in 2021…  it’s here to stay!

After spending many hundreds of hours facilitating and attending a wide range of sessions online in the past few years – from conflict resolutions and training sessions, to dance classes, parties and town halls – here are my five key learnings. They’ve helped me make these sessions energising, for facilitators and educators and for our participants.

1: Connection before content 

For me this principle was deeply embedded in my facilitation in-real-life (IRL) before the pandemic. Purposefully created opportunities to connect with each participant are so important. Even simple gestures like greeting each participant as they arrive ‘in the room’, can be the difference between them feeling engaged and comfortable in the session, versus it being an uninviting backing track to some quality time catching up on emails. So include them in the meeting one-by-one, and indulge in some small talk.

2: Real life rituals work online too

We have found our grounding rituals we use in sessions IRL, are just as important and powerful online. Starting with an acknowledgement of country to honour the physical land we are each on. Taking a moment to pause and centre ourselves in the home ground of our body. And, even if it is brief, creating an opportunity to check-in – each person sharing something with the group. This helps the group to sense the common ground they share together in the Zoom room, and an important icebreaker to get their voice in the room. These rituals not only help people to arrive, but are a key ingredient to creating safety and engagement.

3: Smaller is better

Smaller groups bring greater intimacy. I have learnt this through facilitating and participating in a number of workshops with 30 to 50 plus people. The larger the group, the larger the Zoom vortex grows, creating an often impenetrable silent walk of awkwardness. Or, even worse, the space can be consumed by one or two people. Either of these scenarios can be draining. I find 12 people to be the perfect upper limit for one facilitator to create vibrancy, depth and space for all participants to engage. For groups larger than 15 people, two facilitators is best. This gives flexibility to break into two separate groups. If this isn’t an option then use the breakout rooms to space things out.

4: Remember we are 3D humans 

Taking time to get up, move, pause and connect to our bodies is a must. I aim to not leave people sitting for more than an hour at a time. This supports each of us to not get lost in the online matrix we are immersed in, to help us stay awake and focused. You don’t have to do a complex yoga routine (but you can if you like), just getting up and having a stretch does wonders!

5: Drop the comparison to IRL

I have often heard the phrase, “it’s just not the same as learning in-person”. Although this may be true, it’s usually not helpful for us to compare. I found this comparison mindset to be a key component of my own self-diagnosed Zoom fatigue. It also prevented me from being nourished by the richness of working and learning online. These treasures include the extra time gained from working from home and the opportunity to connect with people from interstate and overseas. I accept that being online just isn’t for some people. But for me, although we’ve had some tifs, I’m hugely grateful for what Zoom has allowed me to be part of!

As we are launching our second year offering our 8-month Advanced Groupwork Facilitation Course online, with these learnings, and a curiosity to uncover many more, I feel equipped and excited by the learning journey ahead.

If you’re interested, you can join us in a free online information session to get a sense of how we facilitate and what the course is all about. Register here

Wishing you the best in your fearless facilitation,

– Henry Fowkes

Henry is an Associate facilitator for Groupwork Centre and a passionate educator. Henry’s approach as a facilitator and teacher is grounded in presence, deep listening, and curious exploration – supporting each individual to uncover their own unique understandings.

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