How many is too many participants?

So I posted my learning circle the day before yesterday, sent out an email blast yesterday, and today, I have now reached my 30th participant. The course doesn’t start until September 9th! I feel really bad closing registration so early, and yet… I’m not sure how many participants is too many.

I’m going to be using Zoom. Potentially, I can have them start in the main room, where I can do introductions and bring us all together, and then split them off into breakout rooms for the rest of the time. Because we only have two hours to discuss what we read for homework, do a writing exercise, share that writing, then do the group exercise(s) at the end, we can’t do it all as one large group. It would literally take all night! lol. But using the breakout rooms to sort of run several mini LCs within one big LC (which is what this seems like, while I bounce between them) makes me wonder how many we can accommodate. Right now we’d need to split it between 4-5 breakout rooms.

Also, I know there’s a chance that most of them won’t actually show up. But the last time I let 30 people register with that thought in mind, most of them did show up. lol. But that was for an in-person event, last September.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts on this, they’d be greatly appreciated!


Hey Jordan! Wow!

As you know, we tend to recommend about 5-12 as the optimal size for a single facilitator. Given your familiarity with the subject matter, I think that number may be higher for you. Beyond that, I think you’ll want to have some co-facilitation support (which could be a simple as reaching out to some participants and asking for volunteers to test the tech with you beforehand and help manage the chat during the learning circle). I imagine that these people could help you facilitate the breakouts as well.

I definitely don’t think you need to feel bad about closing sign up if that’s what you want to do!

@Joseck_Kweya I know that you’ve run learning circles with more than 50 participants. Is there any advice that you can share with Jordan?

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It definitely works really well, better in fact, with a small group! I didn’t quite expect it to blow up so quickly, but I also didn’t want to turn folks away either since we’re not limited by physical space. And I always feel kinda bad when there’s only 5 people in the class. It works well with so few, but who else could have been there, getting something out of it?

Some folks will drop out over time as Real Life gets in the way and whatnot, so that will help.

I think I’m really going to need to emphasize that the role of the facilitator is not that of teacher for this one!

Thanks @grif!

Hey Jordan,

Woo hoo! This sounds like a major win but also a logistical challenge as you point out.

I second what Grif suggests about reaching out to everyone who is registered and say there is an opportunity to volunteer to support tech issues and facilitate breakout rooms. You can be honest with the whole group and say that you weren’t anticipating so many people, so “we’re going to have to figure this out together” and offer your suggestion. I think that sets a good tone, too. I would invite all those present to a separate meeting with you to talk through expectations and make sure they are comfortable with zoom and break out rooms. You might even consider inviting learners who joined your learning circle before? My suggestion would be to have two or three extra people you can lean on for help for every meeting of this size, even if only 20 people show up.

With so many people too, you might want to create an online space for others to help each other in advance, even sending details through this system over the month to come. I know that you sometimes set-up a slack, or whatsapp group, or google group but you might want to make sure all the tech issues or questions don’t all go to you as much as you can. So be aware of the extra communication involved, the space that will happen, and if these self-nominated volunteers can help out in any capacity through this venue as well.

Three other ideas:

  • A number of facilitators have used your course, so they or someone they know, may be interested in helping out (@Susannah_Borysthen-T @Gwendolyn_Haley @SaraDixon @Anne_Olivier). They might also have some ideas for organizing 30 people.
  • You might want to consider extending the first meeting to make it longer, and give in to the idea that the first meeting will only be about using the tech, understanding roles, figuring out where the course lives and getting to know each other.
  • We’re all here to help. If you still need extra help after trying out those strategies, send a call out to the community forum and ask what you need help with. We can at least send it out to the active facilitators and a few teams who might be keen to lend a hand.

Good luck and let us know how we can help in any other ways,


Thanks Nico, this is great advice!

I wasn’t going to use Slack this time around because I had someone last class who thought it was too “invasive” (i think with the notifications) and I didn’t want folks to have to create an account for it. So I’d planned to go with Etherpad to keep things simple. And, maybe we can still do that, just have a section there for Tech Help. and they can delete their questions/comments when they get the answers they need.

lol, it doesn’t help I’m going on a two-week vacation right before class starts. But I can set up a meeting with everyone next Wednesday, and see if we can’t sort out some of the logistics and tech stuff. I will need to draft an email today then. Woot!

Thanks for your added thoughts!

Thought I would give an update here since we just finished the week three class session last night with 18 learners! So I had 30 sign up and about 20 showed up for the first session. We’ve been averaging 20 or a little below. My main point here, is that this can be done! It’s working out really well so far!

I had made the decision to use Etherpad instead of Slack, and I have been thinking Slack would have been better, perhaps, but I’m sticking with Etherpad because I don’t want to confuse anyone and I really don’t like making people get an account somewhere (though I’ve recently gotten into Discord and I am liking the idea of using Discord where I can have past and present learners in the same space with video and audio chat and text chat features…) Anyway, I split the group into five smaller groups and gave each group their own Etherpad that’s linked from the main pad so they have their own space to work. And a few learners started a separate conversation on the main page. I think Slack would have been better for those conversations, but in the past few people have wanted that, so I didn’t think we would need that for this class.

Zoom is a pain over breakout rooms though. Last week we sorted out who wanted to be in what group based on the genre they’re writing, and I had to manually input everyone into a room, which was awkward and time consuming as everyone watches me do it. lol. And it’s a lot of switching back and forth between screens. So after class I edited the Zoom meetings so that everyone was presorted and it should have just been press a button and everyone magically goes away. Well, that didn’t work. Don’t know what happened, but nothing I had done was saved and I had to manually move people again and then had to resort two of them. I’ve now learned that you can’t resort someone if they return to the main space. They have to leave the Zoom completely and come back. Such a pain. I almost think Jitsi would have been better here where I can just use Etherpad to link to the breakout rooms and learners can get themselves where they need to go with minimal fuss. Today, I intend to update each and every meeting time for the next 6/7 weeks and hope it sticks. Maybe I will create Jitsi spaces anyway, just because it’s easier.

Aside from the breakout rooms not working out initially, the groups were having great conversations last night and I heard a lot of good helpful comments in every room. I assigned one person in each room as a time keeper so they can move their group from one exercise to the next while I float between all the groups. Everyone seems to be getting along, although one guy may likely cause some minor friction, so we’ll see how much he annoys the others.

I had someone call the library yesterday because her ipad had died and she didn’t want to miss class and didn’t know how else to connect, so I was able to call her back and get her set up with her phone, which was great. I’d been thinking she didn’t like the course or something, but she just didn’t want to miss it, which was so great to hear.

And now I’m off to futz with the Zoom breakout rooms. Wish me luck this time.