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ATD Blog

The Facilitator as Learning Experience Designer

Monday, December 19, 2022

In The Facilitator’s Guide to Immersive, Blended, and Hybrid Learning, veteran virtual trainer and learning tech maven Cindy Huggett examines the role of a facilitator in immersive, blended, and hybrid learning environments and offers cutting-edge insights and practical advice on how facilitators can make programs effective and engaging in any scenario. In this Q&A with Huggett, she highlights what readers can expect to learn in the book.

Why this book, and why now?

Three key factors led me to research and write this book. First, when I was at the 2018 ATD TechKnowledge Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, I visited the nearby Downton Abbey exhibit, which was on its first US stop. It was a fully immersive, amazing experience, and I felt like I was in the show. That experience, combined with participating in a technology conference focused on training, got me thinking about the possibilities of immersive learning.

Second, my longtime specialty is upskilling virtual trainers to create engaging online learning. And around the same time as that conference, some virtual classroom platforms started to incorporate immersive technologies, such as Skype for HoloLens. So I began researching what skills would be needed to facilitate immersive learning experiences.

Finally, I noticed that my instructional design colleagues now referred to themselves as learning experience designers. As I explored this trend, recognizing that design and facilitation go hand in hand, it made sense that the facilitator role also needed to evolve. The new title is “learning experience facilitator,” and this book takes a deep dive into what it means to be that type of facilitator in today’s modern learning environments.

Cindy, you are known for your 20+ years of expertise with virtual training. Have you left that behind? Where does the virtual classroom fit into this book?

The virtual classroom isn’t going away! Even though it’s not reflected in the title, this book has an entire chapter about facilitating immersive virtual classes. For virtual training to be effective, we need to do so much more than just lecture at remote audiences. We need to use the robust toolset that’s available to us in today’s modern virtual classrooms.

There are three things that virtual facilitators need to know and do to be effective in today’s virtual classroom. Number one, they need a current mindset that shifts from presenting to facilitating. Number two, they need an updated toolset. They need to be very well-versed in the available tools, such as collaborative whiteboards, collaborative small-group breakout rooms, and next-generation polling. Finally, they need an updated skill set to fully focus on remote learners. These skills include sharing airtime and asking inclusive questions to generate dialogue among all participants.

Hybrid is the new buzzword these days. What’s your take on hybrid learning?

We need to ask what’s meant by hybrid learning!

There is confusion over its definition. In a traditional business environment, hybrid learning refers to a synchronous event that has a mixed audience: some participants who are in the same location and others who are remote. But in university settings, hybrid refers to a blended journey that has a combination of synchronous and asynchronous events, like a college class where you meet with a professor once a week and complete assignments in between. When I use “hybrid learning” in this book, I’m referring to a synchronous event that has a mixed audience: some co-located and some remote.


Participants in successful hybrid programs have an equitable learning experience regardless of their location. Facilitators need to set expectations with participants in advance so that everyone has access to the same tools. They also need a “remote first” mindset to help accommodate different locations.

What if I’ve never experimented with new technologies like virtual reality? Is this book going to help me?

Immersive technologies are new for many learning professionals. That’s why this book provides a chapter on the basics of technology that you need to know as a learning experience facilitator. I break down the important details on VR, AR, blended, hybrid, and so on. This primer will help familiarize you with the terms, tools, and information that you need to effectively facilitate in these new environments.

The metaverse is known for gaming and shopping. Most immersive virtual reality experiences are self-directed activities. So what’s meant by the facilitator role in immersive learning?

It’s a common misperception that VR learning experiences don’t need a facilitator. There are four distinct times when facilitators add value to immersive simulations.

First, when the simulation is a highly emotional experience, a facilitator will add value by helping the participant proceed through the event and learn from it.

Second, when there’s a potential lack of trust, such as participant awareness that their every move is being tracked. Having human interaction and guidance can help soften those feelings.

Third, some immersive scenarios require human intervention to work as intended. For example, in a team-building exercise in a fully simulated environment where the facilitator needs to adjust the scenario based upon team decisions.

Finally, even if there is a self-directed aspect to the VR learning experience, facilitators still need to be skilled in the debriefing process. Facilitators can provide feedback and help participants make connections from the simulated experience back to its real-world application. Anytime you’ve got a simulation that will benefit from a debrief, then a facilitator should be included.


How do facilitators keep up with new technologies? How do you feel like you’re not being left behind?

There’s no question that the facilitator role is changing. The bigger question is, how do you stay relevant as a training professional with so many rapid technology changes? The evolving role of the facilitator means that we need to continually learn and stay aware of trends.

I recommend that you start where you are. Just take one step, like joining an online community of practice, or committing to read one new book per quarter. If you’re not able to go to training conferences, at least look through the agendas to see the variety of topics that are being presented so that you can do your own online research. Pay attention to general business trends and think about how they might affect learning. Staying curious is the key to staying relevant.

About the Author

Cindy Huggett is a pioneer in the field of online learning with more than 20 years of experience in providing virtual training solutions and more than 30 years in the world of talent development. She’s a leading industry expert known for teaching thousands of training professionals how to design and deliver practical, engaging, interactive online classes to today’s global workforce through workshops, speaking, coaching, and consulting. Cindy partners with organizations to upskill facilitators, maximize online learning design, and facilitate actionable learning solutions that meet today’s needs and leverage tomorrow’s technologies. Cindy’s previous books include Virtual Training Tools and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning; The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning; and Virtual Training Basics. Cindy is a sought-after conference speaker and one of only a handful of worldwide facilitators chosen to deliver ATD’s Master Trainer ® and Master Instructional Designer ® Programs.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

The Facilitator’s Guide to Immersive, Blended, and Hybrid Learning
ISBN: 9781950496693 | 232 Pages | Paperback

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Cindy Huggett, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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