Breakout Rooms in Live Online Learning

Updated on January 13, 2022


Web conference breakout rooms are the most exciting feature currently available for live online learning. The breakout rooms feature, currently offered by Zoom, GoToTraining, and Adobe Connect, allows instructors to use small group activities in live online learning. Using breakout rooms, a meeting host can move participants into separate online “rooms” for activities. The host can visit each breakout room to listen in on discussions and provide direction before pulling everyone back together in the main session.

To understand the concept of web conference breakout rooms and how to use online breakouts in training, compare them to the small group breakouts often used in the classroom. In a traditional classroom, instructors decide how many groups are needed for an activity and divide the participants into groups. Participants join groups where they can see, hear, and interact with each other to work on an assignment. Meanwhile, the instructor walks around to each group to check progress and answer questions. After the activity, the instructor ends the breakouts by announcing the start of the debrief discussion.

Small group activities add value to classroom training sessions but have not always been possible in live online learning. Now web conference breakout rooms allow you to keep your activities virtually (no pun intended) the same as they were in the classroom. Here we’ll take a look at the features and benefits of breakout rooms for online group activities.

Assigning Breakout Groups

For most activities, participants are randomly assigned to groups unless the activity requires specific participants in each group. In a web conference, you have the option to randomly assign participants to groups or manually create assignments.

Random group assignments created in a web conference are easier than in the classroom. In the web conference, you select the number of groups you want and the groups are automatically distributed. The web conference tool shows how many people are assigned to each group before you open the breakout rooms, allowing you to add or remove a group if the group sizes aren’t just right. Random group assignments in web conferences eliminate the awkward count offs (“Ok, you’re in group 1…you’re 2…3…”) used for creating groups in the classroom.

Moving to Breakout Rooms

In web conference breakouts, participants are automatically moved to their assigned groups when the instructor opens the breakout rooms. Automation ensures no one is confused over their group assignment or where their breakout is located. Since the rooms are virtual, participants don’t need to move personal items to the breakout room. Web conferences automate the classroom practices of gathering belongings and changing rooms and leave more time for the course content.

Breakout Room Collaboration

Participants in web conference breakouts are automatically given presenter rights, meaning they can share audio, video, and their screens. Participants are also able to use the annotation and whiteboard tools to write, draw, and highlight information for everyone in their group to see.

Web conference breakout rooms are private rooms for each group. In the classroom, distractions created by other groups nearby may be difficult to tune out. In a web conference breakout, groups see and hear ONLY their group members so there are no distractions.

Breakout Activity Facilitation

In the web conference setting, instructors can move from room to room to observe each group’s work. In fact, the instructor’s presence is less obvious and less of a disruption to the group’s work in a web conference than in the classroom.

To help instructors identify groups, Zoom provides the ability to rename breakout groups. Renaming groups helps the instructors know which group they are observing if each group is working on a different problem.

If participants need help, web conferences provide tools like hand raising or ask for help features to notify the instructor. The instructor can then join their breakout room to provide assistance. If information shared with one group is useful for all groups, instructors send broadcast messages. Broadcast messages are short, text-based messages sent to all participants in all rooms.

Closing Breakout Rooms

When you’re ready to bring everyone back to the main session, a simple click closes all the breakout rooms and sends participants back to the main room automatically.

In courses with multiple small group activities, the breakout rooms can be reopened at any time without reassigning participants. To change group assignments, you can redistribute or manually reassign groups.

Breakout rooms are simple to use and greatly enhance the web conference training experience. Web conference breakouts open up possibilities for your training sessions and make converting instructor-led training from the classroom to live online learning easy. Leave a comment below to let me know what questions you have about breakout rooms or how you see the breakout rooms feature being used in training.


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