Building Dynamic Learning Programs

For anyone who creates or oversees the creation of learning events:

Hackman bigYou generate learning events to deliver professional development, at monthly meetings or at conferences. How are you ensuring high-quality sessions from your presenters? Five steps towards dynamic programs:

1. STANDARDS: Define standards of excellence for your programs, for example:

  • Members will have a chance to get to know 5 new people.
  • Participants will report feeling engaged and able to contribute knowledge.
  • There will be a buzz in the room from small group discussions
  • People will leave with 2-3 skills or tools that they can apply in their work or practice.

2. FORMAT:  Identify a format that works best for your members. What’s important to them? Networking, learning new tools, peer coaching?  Best practice to engage members:

  • Presenter shows a model, tool or theory.
  • Presenter gives an activity to people to work on in small groups.
  • Presenter debriefs the activity, synthesizes the discussion.
  • Repeat from step A.

3. NETWORKING:  You can create a fun, structured networking activity, for example:

  • Have people introduce themselves in their small groups.  Give them a guiding question, such as:  What brought you here today?  What would you like to get out of this meeting?
  • Bonus step:  Connect the guiding question to the topic of the meeting!   I.e. “What’s a current challenge you’re working on relative to (topic x)?”
  • Generate a set of questions related to the program topic; write each one on an index card.  Hand out the cards when people walk in.  Instructions:  Find a partner to ask and answer each other’s question.  When you’re done, switch cards and find another person!

4.  ENSURE SUCCESS: Coach presenters in advance on the desired format and standards. Review their agenda to make sure it conforms with your standards. Tell presenters: I want to be sure that you’ll be successful with our audience!

5.  DURING THE MEETING:  Don’t be afraid to intervene gently but firmly during the session if the energy is lagging. If necessary, engage someone with facilitation skills who can do this for you.

When we create learning events, we often focus on what the presenter can provide to participants – at the same time, don’t forget that participants bring their own knowledge and expertise, and they want to feel that they are contributing value to the conversation – so make sure the presenter solicits the wisdom in the room!

How can I help you design a dynamic, interactive educational program?  Email me.

If you have a topic or question about program design that you’d like to see featured here, let me know.


  1. This information is so simple…and so important. It’s always surprising when group leaders don’t understand how powerful these steps are. Thanks for putting it together and out in the world. I’m looking forward to having the Boston Facilitators Roundtable join forces with the Mass Bay Organization Development Learning Group for our session on January 16 for Essential Skills for 21st Century Leaders.

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