Planning goal, topic, method

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We introduce here a model that focuses on goals of an activity, is flexible enough to include spontaneous innovations, and reflects the participants’ and facilitators' needs. It will often be the case that you already have a concrete method in mind that you want to pursue. We promote an approach that works the other way round – begin by gaining clarity about your goals and the shared learning goal. We recommend to plan a meeting using a goal-content-method table, which covers all relevant information.


Planning a learning unit or a whole workshop is trying to satisfy diverse expectations. In example, there is the content of learning, a learner group has needs and is underlying a certain dynamic, or one has to make a choice regarding the methodology, how to facilitate the process. In detail these are questions such as:



Why Goals First?

The goals have priority in planning and content, topics, methods should fit into the goals. We explain, why it makes sense to plan by prioritizing goals and learning to give them priority:

Gaining Clarity

Goals help you to think about what you want to achieve and where you currently are in the process.

The disadvantage of thinking in methods, not in goals, is that you might not necessarily be able to describe the deeper meaning behind the unit you are teaching.

Being Transparent

Goals help you inform your participants about what you want to achieve and what is going happen.

Otherwise you have to offer them an explanation along the lines of: “We're playing a game – you'll understand later on.” This is not transparent.

Setting Criteria for Assessment/Evaluation

Goals establish your criteria for success. You will need them for further planning and for evaluation.

If you do not know what you want to achieve, then it is difficult to measure success.

Gaining More Flexibility for Participatory Interaction

Clear goals make you flexible and free to negotiate with your participants. They help you decide quickly whether the process is moving in the right direction or, you should stop or change.

When you have to change quickly, you can act more spontaneously and have more freedom to negotiate with your participants if you keep the "big picture" in mind.

Tool: The Planning Matrix

A planning matrix focuses on the goals of your activity, is flexible enough to include spontaneous innovations, and reflects the participants’ needs and those of the facilitators. We recommend planning a meeting using such a goal-content-method table, which should cover all relevant information.

0. Define the general purpose of the meeting

First, describe the general issue you are dealing with in the meeting and how it is related to the general, fundamental goals of your activity. Before filling out the matrix define one general goal for the meeting with a maximum of 5 sub-goals. This reduction will help you to gain clarity.

0. Divide the programme in smaller timeslots (units)

Define the time necessary for each unit. Try to be realistic. Include breaks (which should be considered as necessary informal group, reflection or recreation time).

...Fill out the planning matrix




Lunch break


1. Goals

Go into details . Plan different units or didactical steps for the meeting and define their goals. Formulate the goals from the perspective of your participants, using the past tense.

“The participants have learned/experienced/done...”

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

  • Participants have learned each other's names.
  • They got a first impression of the group.
  • They know one another in terms of the topic at hand.


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

2. Content

Identify the relevant content.

Which aspects of the content are important? What knowledge is relevant?

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

Active icebreaking

Possible Questions:

  • Names
  • How much do you know about topic X?
  • Interests...


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

3. Method

Choose a method: Methods have to correspond to their goals. While you choose from among several possibilities for how to teach a topic, you can ask: Which of the methods is best suited to achieve my goals?

How will I achieve the goal and address the topical aspects?

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

Shoe game

  • Each participants takes off one shoe and throws it into the middle;
  • Each participant then takes a shoe out of the “pile of shoes,” finds the owner, and they talk in pairs.

Sociometric line-up

  • Participants form a line according to their answers to these questions x, y, z...


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

4. Who?

A larger team can include one facilitator and a supporting co-facilitator. If you are running a meeting as a team, it makes sense to agree on goals, while the facilitator responsible for the unit decides on content and methods.

Who plans, moderates or guides participants through the step(s)?

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

  • Petra, Pawel


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

5. Material and remarks

You can also add the necessary material and organizational remarks to the table. This can be helpful during preparation.

What materials, preparation or specific requirements are needed?

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

  • Requires sufficient space.
  • Mark +/- on the floor for orientation


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

6. Check: Addressed Competences

What (sub)competence - knowledge skill, attitude, values- is addressed in here?

Sub-unit A (9:00-9:45)

  • Communication, collaboration in diverse groups


Sub-unit B (9:45-10:30)

Flexibility: Between goals and the process

Striking a healthy balance between a goal-oriented and process-oriented approach is what makes a holistic learning experience complete, and reflects the values of holistic understanding. This means that we always have to be aware that changing plans might be necessary, and that you cannot completely stick to the seminar schedule you created beforehand.

When we agree on regular adjustments of our plans and learning goals, this implies that we have to discuss plans and goals with our participants transparently. In this sense, we encourage them to:

  • Share tasks
  • Decide together about changes in subjects, methods, or agendas
  • Negotiate conflicting goals
  • Ask themselves how we can ensure that plans have enough flexibility and yet also enough structure?

Possibilities for changing plans during an event

  • Regular assessment in the facilitators' team: Having regular team meetings on the evening of the event
  • Morning sessions: discussing program and goals with participants
  • Encouraging participants’ reflection, e.g. regular reflection rounds without or with the facilitators, including methods for formative self-assessment
  • Offering an anonymous feedback box and checking it before every daily programme
  • Inviting participants to influence the process during the event and showing your willingness to do it: e.g. speeding up some parts if participants already have knowledge of it, taking breaks when participants say they need it, letting participants facilitate parts of a session, etc.

However, the condition for adjustments is reflection grounding on evidence gained by assessment - in a formative assessment/evaluation approach during the whole process.

Read more:

At the beginning, it might make us feel insecure to give up control, but experience shows that it actually strengthens participants’ sense of responsibility for the process and their identification with the seminar content.

Elke Heublein

Co-founder of Working Between Cultures. Co-author of Holistic learning. Facilitator since 2004, certified intercultural facilitator (Institute for Intercultural Communikation, LMU München) and trainer (IHK Akademie München/Westerham), adult education (Foundation University Hildesheim). Focus: Cooperation and leadership in heterogenouos teams, higher education, train-the-trainer.

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email:

Holistic Learning


Planning experiential, inspirational and participatory learning processes in non-formal education.


Also interesting:

Our Handbooks Holistic-learning-book-cover.png

E. Heublein, N. Zimmermann

Holistic Learning

Second Handbook for Facilitators: Read more

Trainercollaboration.jpg Planning is a joint effort of facilitators and participants before and during a seminar.