The Virtual Session Design Canvas (Beta)

The Virtual Session Design Canvas is out of Beta! Please use V1

The Virtual Session Design Canvas is for anyone who has attended the Virtual Session Design Lab, An Online Facilitator Coaching Session, or has read ‘Tips for Designing an Effective Workshop Session’. It assumes a familiarity with Malcolm S. Knowles Adult Learning Theories and ADIDS as a workshop format.  This canvas has been developed as part of a co-creation process, which is why it is being released as a beta.

The purpose of the canvas is to support the session design process and allow a facilitator, and their team, to see the big picture along with the detail all at the same time.

How to use the canvas

  1. Download a blank copy of the canvas.
  2. Populate the canvas by answering the questions below in the relevant sections of the canvas.

If you’d like to give us feedback, get a copy of an online version of the canvas to share with your team OR if you would like to modify the canvas to make it work better for you, please send a request to canvas (at)

Page 1 – Considerations

The Big Picture

  • What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish? 
    • Is this part of a broader aim or a program, project or effort? What is that? Is it a milestone? If so, how will it move this forward? 
    • What do you want to learn?
    • How will this session build and strengthen connections in your community or network? 
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the session?


  • Who are your participants?
    • What do you need to learn about your participants ahead of the session?
    • What do you want to learn from your participants during the session? How can they help you move your work forward?
    • Do the participants know each other? How well? Have they collaborated or worked together previously? How is that relationship? 
  • What are the essential topics they will need to have covered in the session? 

Consider writing a brief session description that describes who the session is for and what value and benefit they might get from attending.


  • How much time do you have to run the session? Plan less time than you have allotted.
  • Schedule your session – make sure you have an optimal time, given people’s energy levels.  A long online session might make more sense to schedule over a couple of days, rather than doing it all at once. 
  • What virtual tools will you need to run the session? Use as few as you possibly can. At the minimum, you will need a meeting space (Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, etc.) and a shared doc (Google Doc, Etherpad) for use during the session.
    • Consider your participants’ bandwidth, connections and their comfortability and familiarity with the tools.
    • What instruction will you need to provide?
  • What are responsible data, privacy and security considerations needed for this meeting? How will you communicate those to the participants in advance?
  • What will need translating and how will you do it?
  • Do you need a back-channel for your team to communicate with each other during the session?
    • Who should be part of the backchannel? Do you need more than one?
    • What platform (e.g. Skype, WhatsApp, Signal) is the team most comfortable?  
  • What resources will you need? How much budget?


  • What roles will you need to run the session? How many people? Doing what?
  • How will you document and take notes during the session? 
  • What guidelines will you need to provide in order to ensure inclusivity and trust during the session?
  • What will you need to test ahead of time?      
  • What instruction will need to be provided? How will we make sure what we are asking of participants is clear and understandable? 
  • When do you need to send different materials to participants (invitation, agenda, reading prep, instructions, logistics, reminders, etc.)?


  • How and when will you follow-up with participants?
  • How will participants continue to interact with each other after the session?
  • How might participants/community/network make use of the outputs of the session?
  • What will happen with the collaborative doc? 


  • How will you get feedback on the session from participants?

Page 2 – Session Plan

How will you line up parts of the session to create a logical and comfortable sequence? We have laid out an ADIDS (Activity, Discussion, Input, Deepening & Synthesis) sequence that will drive learning. 


  • What activity can you start with to get participants grounded in their own contexts and challenges?
    • How will you break them into small groups for the activity?
    • What should be captured in the small groups? How will you do that? (Google Doc, post-it notes, etc)
    • How long will this take?


  • Which questions should you ask when you bring them back into large group discussion to help them reflect on the activity?
    • How long will this take?
    • How will you capture it?


  • What expertise could be provided for the participants on the topic for Input?
    • Are there key voices/writings/content/stories that could be shared?
    • How long will this take?


  • What is a small group activity where participants can deepen their knowledge with the expertise they have just received?
    • How will you break them into small groups for the activity? 
    • What should be captured in the small groups? How will you do that? (Google Doc, post-it notes, etc)
    • How long will this take?


  • How can they synthesize the session in a large group discussion?
    • Is there a list of best practices you might ask them to generate?
    • How can they apply this workshop to their current and future projects?
    • How long will this take?
    • How will you capture it?
  • How much time will you have for follow-up questions and clarification on next steps?
    • What are next steps/follow up activities with the participants?
    • How will you capture it?
  • How long do you need for the entire session? Add up the time needed – especially for technical parts (switching between large/small groups, etc.).
  • Don’t forget breaks.

Things to keep in mind during the session

  • Make sure everyone feels welcome, comfortable and knows how to use the platform or tools.
  • Provide Guidelines for interaction
  • Take breaks when people seem to be getting tired regardless of when you scheduled them. 
    • Ask participants to turn their video on and off, rather than disconnect and reconnect. 
  • If people are dropping out because of low-bandwidth, consider turning off video
  • Always stay calm and have a sense of humour if things go wrong.
  • Appreciate everyone’s participation and contribution often
  • Ask participants for (technical) help and advice if needed – it’s a joint effort! 

Session Support Materials

Sample ‘How to Participate’ Guidelines

These are standard guidelines we use at FabRiders, please feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.

The Zoomies

We are providing this example, not as an endorsement to use zoom, but as an example of instruction needed for any platform.

  • To operate in Zoom, move your cursor to the bottom of the screen and a menu bar will appear (please note that if you’re using a tablet or smartphone, the menu may be located elsewhere). In the lower left-hand corner, you should see a mic icon where you can mute and unmute yourself. We request that you stay on Mute, until you are invited to come off Mute to speak. Next to that is an icon for a camera where you can turn your video on and off
  • In the middle of that menu bar, you should see an icon of a figure, click on that and a list of participants appears on the right-hand side of your screen. You will note: there is a button at the bottom of that list that says ‘raise hand’ – you can use that to get our attention if you have a question or a comment you would like to contribute to the discussion. 
  • You are free to record this workshop for your own use only. If you were ever to share the recording, please contact relevant participants and get their okay.  

General Guidelines 

  • Be respectful – Please follow the instructions and the prompts, be timely. Respect that there are different experiences present and try to listen and understand. Don’t rush to solve other people’s problems instead, strive to build solidarity. 
  • Be Inclusive – Speak to the nth. Expand all acronyms, be wary of jargon, so everyone can understand. Share resources and URLs, so others can benefit.
  • Be Fully Present – Ask questions and get the most out of the small group discussions and in the large group. Minimise or close apps that you might find distracting! 

Google Doc tips

We are providing this example, not as an endorsement to use Google Docs, but as an example of instruction needed for any platform.

  • To the left of the document, floating towards the top of the white buffer is a grey three-line icon. That’s the Document outline. Click it and it will show subsections of the document, which you can then click on and travel right to that section instead of scrolling
  • If you want to go directly to someone’s cursor (where they’re writing) and they’d signed in (or you know which anonymous animal they are) you can click on the circle icon for their name/animal up top, above the document on the right side, on the same level as the title, towards where it says “Share.” If you can’t see that line, look for a down arrow (like an upside-down >) on the very far right up top and click that.

Sample Activities:

  • Silent reflection – ask participants to write down a response to a question, this can either be done via an online collaborative doc, or?. Write the question with bullet points underneath. 
  • Brainstorming and Organising – break participants into small groups to discuss the topic more deeply. Ask them to capture main points in complete understandable sentences on post-it notes or (online) in a shared collaborative doc. After enough time to generate a good number of items, use a wall to gather the notes and ask participants to organise the items and identify main themes or topics.
  • Ordering – Print the title of each step on a sheet of paper and ask for volunteers to hold the signs. After each volunteer says the title of the sign, ask participants to put the steps in order – as they do so, ask why they have chosen that order.
  • Ranking – ask participants to break into pairs and discuss a list of techniques and ask them to determine most effective to least effective.
  • Gallery – Share examples or case studies and get participants to review each one as if they are in an art gallery. Give them questions to answer as they review each example (i.e., for data visualisations ask: what is the message and who is it for?)
  • Spectrogram – online version. Make a controversial statement. In a collaborative doc have people put an X along a line: agree<——————->disagree
  • Scenario – create scenarios based on real-life problems that address the topic. Break participants up into small groups to review the scenarios and discuss how they would solve the problem.
  • Hands-on – give participants an opportunity to work directly with a tool.

Some Silent Reflection Examples

  • Get final commitments by getting them to complete the sentences in a collaborative doc:
    • As a result of this workshop, I will… (task & name)
    • As a result of this workshop, we (this group of people) should…
    • Reflecting on what happened at this workshop, let us not forget to…
  • Get the group to imagine future interaction by completing “How about we…..”

Virtual Session Roles

More than likely, you will need more than one host for your session. Big thanks to Heather Leson and Solferino Academy at IFRC for starting this list of potential roles:

  • Technical host (s)
    • handles breakout room set up, breakout room Q & A
    • schedules the meeting
    • handles interpretation
    • assigns ‘ cohost’ duties
    • designs participates and coordinates technology and content with the team
  • Facilitator Host (s)
    • cohost
    • coordinates with business owner on content, format and guests
    • outreach and announcements for the event across networks
    • coordinates event production team
    • books guest speakers
    • runs the public part of the meeting (front of house)
    • relays messages from team
    • designs, participates and coordinates technology and content with team
  • Community manager/engagement (s)
    • cohost
    • moderates people – shut video, verify users, kicks out potential troublemakers
    • coordinates with business owners on potential problematic participants
    • coordinates questions across breakout and facilitator
    • Shares outreach and announcements for the event across networks
    • provides community engagement training
    • coordinates the back of the house (WhatsApp) and the front of house communications
    • answers questions in the chat
    • provides the collaborative documentation
    • recruits moderation, community helpers for larger events
    • coordinates technical and community teams with facilitators 
    • manages waiting room with business owners (verifies participants when applicable)
    • designs, participates and coordinates technology and content with team
  • Technical Support 
    • cohost
    • coordinates technical issues with the technical host and team. 
    • direct messages people who need help with sound/setup, verified participants, changes people’s names to identify them correctly
  • Moderators
    • provides extra support for technology and community teams
    • cohost
    • can advise if there are potential problem makers
  • Analysts
    • review the outputs from the collaborate notes
    • creates summary and insights
  • Designers
    • puts outputs into usable, web or email-based content and formats for easy digesting and dissemination

Co-Creating the Canvas

This canvas was originally conceived during an engagement with the European Centre for Non-Profit Law. We got further feedback and input on the canvas from participants of the Virtual Session Design Lab and finally a trusted group of colleagues provided guidance. A big thanks to the following individuals who have helped in the co-creation process:

Please help us get the canvas out of beta and get added to our list of co-creators! Send us feedback on how we can improve at canvas (at)