Frontloading Facilitation

Preparation builds shared vision for successful training events

In partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Mozilla recently ran a web literacy training for librarians from 7 pilot organizations working to #teachtheweb. Following the training, they will form teams to adapt our online curriculum to help library staff and patrons learn the skills detailed on Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. You can read more about the project’s background here and here.

We met with nearly 60 participants at the Cleveland Public Library for a full day of teaching and learning.

Given the size of the group and the amount of material we wanted to cover, we knew it would be important to “teach small” by

  • Sticking to our roles.
  • Scripting key information.
  • Demoing everything.

Ahead of the event, we assigned team members to serve as

  • Project managers focused on documentation, logistics, and reflection.
  • A lead instructor focused on demos and connecting the dots between them.
  • Several table wranglers focused on leading small-group activities and troubleshooting.

Adopting different roles helped us ask each other different kinds of questions that improved planning and strengthened outcomes. For example, by scripting activity guides and a new “cheat sheet” to help table-wranglers throughout the day, we wound up with remixable references we could hand-off to participants for their own work back home. When you help yourself, you help your learners. The challenge isn’t to become so good that you never need to prepare; it’s to become so design- and service-oriented to both your learners and co-facilitators that you constantly ask how to prepare better.

To showcase the breadth of our curriculum, we tried several new demos this time. While we still have to tweak the balance of online and offline activities throughout the day, we made the right decision to break down each web-native activity into small steps accompanied by lead-instructor think-alouds from the front of the room. We want people to feel free to work ahead, but we also want them to know we aren’t going to leave them behind. The demo is a scaffold built by the lead facilitator’s instruction, the table-wranglers’ troubleshooting, and the project manager’s documentation and reflection on what worked and what needs to change for next time. It’s more about showing people what they can do than about showing them what the technology can do.

What are our takeaways from this event in particular? What new notions will help us do a better job next time?

Preparation bridges events, and its foundation is documentation. Keep track of what participants make during an event. Survey them anonymously at the end of the day using an online form for easy collection and review. Debrief with your team immediately after the workshop ends. Give yourself plenty of places to begin with reflection by documenting everything you can without distracting yourself from your role. Documentation from one event gives you the evidence you need to frontload changes to the next. Preparation is the bridge between events because how you prepare for the next event is your reflection on how you executed the last one.

The opportunity to scale is an invitation to concentrate. As your events become bigger, be sure to ask for what you need. Focus on what makes you and your team successful and be sure to scale up those practices and resources along with your number of participants. You might need to ask for more help. You may need to say no to an event. You might need to add or cut items from your agenda. When you’re faced with decisions about how to scale up your work, concentrate on what makes your team successful and recognize the constraints that you need to put on events to ensure their success.

Stay small and modular. Adopt discrete roles. Chunk instruction. Mix and match online activities and offline ones. When a table-wrangler asks to lead a quick activity or discussion to help the whole group move ahead, try it out. When one activity runs short, have another ready to go. Arrive with tiny offline backup plans in-hand if there’s a server crash or wifi goes out. Sometimes you have to use plans B, C, and D to replace plan A. You should have a definite order of activities that you think best serves your learners, but you should also anticipate unanticipated needs showing up during a training. Being able to swap activities or take a quick break is essential to being a responsive facilitator. The more complex and rigid your plan, the more fragile it is to disruption. Make your plans logical, but also iterative, summative, and refactorable to allow yourself the greatest flexibility in teaching to the learning outcomes your participants need.

What’s next for you? How can we help you #teachtheweb? Check out to connect with educators like you and share your questions and suggestions with our global community of web literacy leaders.