The fishbowl experience… the world on online training

Ilaria Spiteri Axiak

Updated on

Ilaria Spiteri Axiak is currently reading a Masters in Education. Illaria then joined Misco on a full-time basis as a Training and Development executive, specialising in course writing as well as completing the administrative role in the training department. Ilaria is also a trainer with Misco, specialising in areas of Communication, Interpersonal Relationships, Selling Techniques, Project Management, Training, Talent Development and Job Coaching.

Picture a fishbowl. Inside a round, see-through container is a fish swimming in circles, where anyone passing by can see, observe and even make a statement. The centre of the fishbowl is filled with gravel, rock and decorated algae to entertain the fish.

Now imagine yourself inside a fishbowl. Put yourself instead of that fish and replace the decoration with a given amount of chairs. You suddenly find yourself in a fishbowl discussion.

Five chairs are placed in an inner circle, in the centre of a room. Those running the discussion occupy these chairs. The audience present forms part of the outer circle. Anyone can choose to enter and leave the discussion, the five chairs, as they please.

Once a person leaves the discussion, one of the five chairs is freed up and anyone else from the audience can join in the discussion and sit on the free chair. The discussion is based on questions, answers, debates and all sorts of feedback. These are used for large, participant-driven discussions and events.

Why does online training, that involves discussions, have to be boring? Training sessions that are interactive, include discussions and debates. How is the fishbowl discussion any different? The fishbowl experience serves its purpose in that it is original. This innovative approach to a discussion provides uniqueness and particularity. Why? Since it limits the amount of voices and opinions in the discussion, it avoids having irrelevant input to the discussion.

On a Saturday night in November, instead of watching another movie, like I had done for the previous eight months on Saturday nights, I decided to see what the world was up to. I found myself in a fishbowl discussion going on, on the other side of the Earth.

A heated discussion on a delicate topic was happening, and the organisers of this event decided to approach this discussion by using the fishbowl experience. The session started with the moderator explaining the function of the fishbowl discussion. My initial thought was that this was an unfair approach because not everyone could express one’s opinions on the matter. However, as the discussion evolved I understood exactly why.

When training sessions started being delivered online, many platforms were used and different approaches were taken. Practically all sessions try to attempt to leave the discussion open by, for example, leaving the chat function enabled or having microphones switched on. However, we lose the people experience factor in these two given examples.

If we look at the first example given, enabling a chat function gives the individual the freedom to type away, but we encounter the barrier of not having verbal communication. The second example is a little bit more practical. However, there is still a barrier to communication. Since we are unable to read the body language, it is not possible to understand when a person has finished talking and there is the risk of talking over each other or not talking at all. The fishbowl discussion removes these difficulties encountered when having a discussion during a training session.

Back in December, Misco’s Training Unit attempted the fishbowl experience during a complimentary Misco Talks online session. The topic of discussion was online training.

For the past year, the world has been trying to embrace online training and amalgamate training methods used in the training room to those online. In principle, training methods did remain the same, namely by using discussions as part of training sessions. The issue was how this was going to be done effectively online.

Our moderator’s role was to simply be sure that all six spots of the fishbowl discussion were occupied. If one dropped out, then the moderator chose a person, unless someone volunteered, to join in the discussion. The experience definitely served its purpose because all participants were encouraged to talk.

The computer screen has become a major hindrance in communication and created an insurmountable barrier for many. Try to use the fishbowl discussion method to enhance your discussions online.

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