Ideas: Using Liberating Structures in post-secondary education

ideas for applying Liberating Structures in our work
really neat photo by Nancy White!


Throughout both days of our most recent Liberating Structures workshop, we harvested participants’ ideas for applying Liberating Structures activities to their work.

A few big themes emerged, (e.g., supporting student work and assignments,  learning design & faculty development,  meetings, projects and organizational development, and more), so here they are, organized by Liberating Structures activity, and those repeating themes.

Hopefully this (in addition to the  Matchmaker) can help you find the right Liberating Structure to meet your facilitation challenge.

Use Impromptu Networking

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,
    • Explore student prior knowledge, questions or interests in a topic
    • Support recall of information from previous sessions
    • Identify student social media use
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • as a way to begin conversations with a new group (this is low stakes) – i.e., icebreaker

Use Troika Consulting …

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,
    • peer review of writing
    • students in developing ideas for papers, projects, assignments, theses, dissertations…
    • students in preparing and practicing listening (e.g., for conducting their own research)
  • to support learning design & faculty development
    • obtain peer feedback, ideas, support with teaching challenges, like moving away from lecturing, assessment, difficult students, etc.
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • Work through project issues
    • Use to get peer help/ideas on any challenge (“design a solution for my problem!”)
    • To have team share suggestions and get feedback


  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,
    • Identifying ANY practices we should stop doing
    • For preparing for job interviews
    • In the context of a library research workshop: students identify worst possible research essay and then identify their counter-productive practices or roadblocks, and then steps that can be taken, including new strategies and resources
    • Students participate in identifying assignment expectations by first exploring the “worst possible” assignment
    • As a way to approach customer service training: have students identify the worst service ever
  • to support learning design & faculty development
    • Discern between counterproductive & productive initiatives during evaluation process
    • In the ISW (Instructional Skills Workshop) use TRIZ to consider the “worst lesson ever” and what we must stop doing
    • To identify good and bad course design features
    • Proposal development on supporting faculty with high failure rates (must build trust first, and approach with “loving provocation”)
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • Identify elephants in the room/meeting
    • Build team effectiveness, break silos
    • Use at beginning of meeting: “how could we make this the worst possible meeting” then introduce another LS for reluctant participants

Use 1-2-4-all

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,
    • “solve impossible problems together in a very short period of time” (group problem solving, PBL)
    • As an icebreaker – invite students to articulate and share expectations and hopes
    • Replace “at your table, talk about…”
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • To generate suggestions for activities and improvements

Use 25/10 Crowdsourcing...

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., 
    • as an alternative to brainstorming and dot voting (more interactive)
    • to invite a very smart group to generate bold ideas for improving teaching and learning in B.C. post-secondary education 😉
  • to support learning design & faculty development
    • Workshop ideas for program lean consultation
    • Generate workshop ideas for a monthly workshop series for a teaching and learning centre
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • Use at strategy meetings to get a few bold ideas
    • Consider doing a 2nd round if first round isn’t BOLD enough
    • To energize! (not during flu season, watch scoring bias)
    • Rank project priorities

Use What x 3 (What, So What, Now What)

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., 
    • Use at the end of a class to give students an opportunity to review and synthesize information and identify a next step
    • Use to debrief any shared/learning/content experience including readings, films, field trips, guest speakers, etc
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development
    • method to debrief planning team after events

Use Nine Whys

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,  help Masters students narrow research question
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g.,
    • Use to dig deep (into purpose) on whether we should migrate to a new LMS or not
    • Use to set priorities for the week or designated period of time


Use Users Experience Fishbowl….

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., 
    • discuss/debrief readings in a class
    • invite/include “unusual suspects” into the conversation (i.e., include everyone)
    • offer time/space/pacing for participants
  • to support learning design & faculty development
    • training/onboarding new students or staff…invite existing or exiting staff into the fishbowl. Invitation: describe a team activity or project that describes team’s purpose in practice (and that energizes you)
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g., as a method for hosting conversations, and consider ways for outside circle to give feedback to the inside/fish (do outside folks need a job besides listening?)
  • to support increased access/accessibility, e.g.,
    • Increase accessibility for hearing/volume challenges
    • Instead of a panel
    • as a method to invite and hear other people’s stories

Use Mad Tea

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., 
    • students explain concepts to each other quickly
    • as an icebreaker and energizer
    • as a way to practice language learning, quick conversation skills
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g.,
    • debrief at the end of a strategic planning session
    • as a method (or part) to structure Department Meetings – gets people on their feet and thinking/talking fast

Use Design Storyboards...

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., Prepare students for field work and research
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g., Team planning process (put it in google docs for multiple, simultaneous, distributed contributions)


Use Social Network Webbing

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g., Leadership team launch

Use Purpose-to-Practice...

  • to support learning design & faculty development, e.g., quality improvement project kick-off
  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g., Non-profit board orientation and input-gathering

Use 15% Solutions

  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g., to determine what resources are available to solve tech issues
  • to support increased access/accessibility, e.g.,
    • With front line health care teams
    • In a department meeting ask everyone what their 15% is to promote engagement

Use Wicked Questions

  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g.,for coaching conversations

Use Critical Uncertainties

  • to support increased access/accessibility, e.g., Students develop a robust praxis for attending 911 calls to homes with various diversity-related challenges around languages, religion, gender, ages, SES barriers.

Use Heard, Seen, Respected...

  • to support meetings, projects & organizational development, e.g.,to reduce “passive aggressive” behaviour

Use Kanban board…(note:  this isn’t a Liberating Structure…it’s one of those “punctuations” we use because they work well)

  • to support student work & assignments, e.g.,
    • For syllabus and learning objectives
    • In the f2f component of group work. Help students to keep track of different steps to work through. Allows faster groups to go forward without having to sit and wait for next instruction. Allows all students to remember sequence of steps and see purpose and results
    • Help students organize their learning

And finally, here are a couple strings (i.e., a few LS “strung together” intentionally) participants designed for their own facilitation challenges:

  • For project planning, start to finish: Purpose to Practice, 9 Whys, Min specs, 1-2-4-all 
  • For for space planning interviews:  Wicked Questions, Min Specs, TRIZ