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What Is a Breakout Session?

Breakout sessions offer attendees to brainstorm applications of the ideas from larger meetings.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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Also known as a breakout meeting or a round robin, a breakout session is a type of event that often takes place in various types of workshops in seminars. With this particular learning strategy, the larger group of attendees is divided into smaller groupings and provided the opportunity to discuss some specific aspect of the main session’s subject matter. With most applications, this short period of breaking into small groups is followed by reports and discussion of the findings of each of the smaller groups to the main body of attendees.

The idea behind a breakout session is to allow event attendees to be more actively involved in the learning process. Depending on the scope of subjects or topics provided to each group, the opportunity for attendees to share information based on experience, education, or even random speculation is provided. When the sessions are overseen by a competent group facilitator, the time spent in these smaller groups can prove beneficial to everyone attending the conference, training, or class.

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There are a number of ways to structure a breakout session. The facilitator may divide attendees into smaller groups and provide each group with a specific topic to discuss amongst themselves, or give each group the same question in hopes of gleaning some insights on the topic from each of the groups. Within the group itself, one individual is normally designated as a leader who seeks to keep the conversation on target. Another individual may be charged with making a list of the group’s remarks and insights as the conversation continues. The group will often appoint one of their number to function as a spokesperson that reports the findings to the main gathering once the breakout session is completed and everyone reassembles into the main group.

One of the chief benefits of using a breakout session approach during a seminar is that attendees are more actively involved and likely to retain more information once the event is over. For main speakers and seminar leaders, using breakout meetings in conjunction with lecture times, general question and answer sessions, and various types of audio and visual aids help to add some variety to the process, which in turn holds the interest of attendees with greater ease. In addition, this approach makes it possible to draw on the collective experience of the attendees, and provides the chance to brainstorm applications of the new knowledge or ideas people are learning during the meetings.

While the idea of a breakout session is common to many training seminars and similar events, the general concept can be used in a number of settings. Teachers can employ this approach in a classroom with relative ease. Even within the context of training a new group of employees, a training officer can use this approach to break the class into groups of two or three, present them with a specific scenario relevant to the workplace, and ask them to apply what they’ve learned to addressing and resolving that scenario effectively.

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