Addressing Self-responsibility

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Learning processes can be designed with more or less involvement on the part of the participants. In our opinion however, the facilitator’s role in inspiring and empowering learners for active participation in civic and social life is the main topic. That is why we now ask the question: How can one design a learning event so that active participation and self-directed learning are fostered not only after, but from the very beginning?

Personal Competence

For self-responsible action people need to perceive themselves as agents of change. They then assume responsibility for themselves and for others. Skills for planning and for following their plans are the conditions for their next steps, taking concrete action. Third, reflective competency is crucial for successful action, like the capacity to observe and evaluate challenges, requirements, or options.

All of these aspects are not born and need to be trained. Your seminar room is the perfect training field for this task. Like all good training it starts with a good trainer: Are you willing to give your participants opportunities to overtake initiative? Are you tolerant enough regarding unexpected developments or possible mistakes? Are you prepared for changes of your plans?

If you can answer these questions with "yes", this will help you to make the right decisions under real life conditions such like limited time, conflicts in a group, or too much workload. Here facilitators face often a dilemma: Giving their participants place for experimentation or better teaching more topical knowledge for the price of less experimentation. However, at the end we should not conduct traditional teaching. Here are some ideas, how you can show your cooperative attitude toward your participants in your plans made before the seminar started and during your moderation of the common process.

Digital Challenge

Digital tools and platforms have built-in assumptions about moderation. Although in different ways and intensities, they give power to the moderator or represent an implicit idea of what collaboration should look like. For example, in some platforms it is not possible to give every user the role of administrator. It is not possible to leave a breakout room. Most try to limit side conversations more efficiently than any old-style authoritarian teacher. While in an analog setting a facilitator may notice that participants begin to lose attention as background noise increases, these and similar signals are often not present in digital spaces. While digital spaces represent a new opportunity, we must also remember that they present challenges to presenters. We mention this primarily because they are often not developed in a way that reinforces learners' sense of ownership.

Ways to engage participants before and during...

Flexible planning and moderation

  • Involving participants every evening in planning of the next day and letting them decide on the direction.
  • Parts of the event’s content are decided by participants: practical workshops, defining topics, and moderating discussions. Full ownership is here in learners’ hands.
  • (Co-)moderation by participants, presentations.


  • Asking participants how much time they need rather than giving timeframes for task completion.
  • Leaving “open windows,” such as one hour each day where learners decide for themselves what they want to work on and how.
  • Whenever a problem or difficulty appears, ask participants to verbalize it and moderate the search for solutions.

Reflection and feedback

  • Discussing and answering ongoing questions in front of the group.
  • After each session or working day, establishing transfer rounds where participants clearly define what learning outcome they find useful.
  • Pairs of participants discuss their reflections independently of facilitators.

Co-creation in the learning space

  • Co-creation of the learning environment: shaping the space where the learning event takes place directly after entering the room and according to learners’ wishes.
  • Participants deciding on their own music and entertainment.
  • Teams take care of specific activities (during program and social time).
  • Shared decisions about social activities.

Addressing Self-learning Skills

  • Learners reflect on their learning styles and preferences, and gain awareness of their conditions for successful learning
  • They become familiar with planning skills: learning plans, assessment, checklist work
  • Training an orientation toward opportunities and solutions (in contrast to analyzing problems)
  • Practicing goal-setting methods
  • Using learning diaries or portfolio tools for (self-)documentation
  • Using self-assessment tools for evaluation

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. 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:

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.

Holistic Learning


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


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E. Heublein, N. Zimmermann

Holistic Learning

Second Handbook for Facilitators: Read more