Workshops. Are they the best type of Class?

I just read recently that if you spend long enough following someone on social media you’ll learn who they truly are—they’re political alignment, they’re sense of humor, they’re beliefs etc. To an extent I find this to be true, especially when someone’s back is up to the wall, you’ll see their true nature. You’ll see what they will do to survive, and who they’ll sacrifice along the way or . . . you will see something extraordinary.

You also get to learn about people as they observe things. There are those who will watch the world go by and criticize everything around them without knowing anything about what they’re talking about, and then there are those who will blindly say that everyone is simply trying their best no matter what the outcome or effort is—and they are only two ends of the spectrum.

Chances are I’m going to offend a tonne of people with this post, but if you try to keep everyone happy you’ll make no one happy.

You also get to learn a heap when you see ‘How’ people do things. And when I say this I mean that there is more than one way to get things done, but more often than not you will see the same method or the same tool being used.

And when it comes to teaching adults or providing training, the same tool keeps on coming up . . . The Workshop!

Now before I start offending people; what’s my issue with ‘The Workshop?’

Here’s the thing, I don’t have an issue with it—my personal issue is that every single instructor out there or ‘facilitator’ thinks they run the best workshop in town, and the impression is that workshops are the only worthwhile way to get things done when teaching of adults.

Some may take offense

So . . .  let’s get ahead of the trolling. There are those who’ll be thinking;

  1. If you’re not running workshops, then you’re just a boring instructor
  2. You must obviously do your training from power point presentations
  3. Workshops are awesome, leave them alone
  4. “What course did you attend, and are you certified? Because if you were then you wouldn’t have an issue with workshops.”

Okay before I answer these questions I should tell you one of the triggers for this post and that was hearing the words—and I am paraphrasing here, ‘that power points are so 2004, I don’t use them and I have my classes learn from one another to get the best transformations.’

Yeah . . . power points are old school, but they are only a training aid; the presentation. Not the Lesson!!!

And you see this bothers me because, if your class learns from each other, then what are you really there for? As an instructor what do you bring to the party? Ah as a facilitator that’s easy—facilitators are simply there to allow something either to happen, or to allow it to become easier. It’s a nice (highly available) definition that basically says that facilitators just make things happen as opposed to teach you something.

Ugh, here’s the thing . . . you gotta understand that hearing the words in the trigger were easy to take out of context, and in this case—knowingly were. Make no mistake I’m not saying that facilitators (of workshops) do not in fact teach or develop people. And I’m not saying that they’re useless . . . I’m not.

What has gotten to me into a bit of a spin here is the concept that ‘The Workshop’ is the only teaching format that is worth using with Adults. After all each facilitator claims they run the most interactive and engaging workshop on the block.

Look if a workshop is engaging and interactive that’s great . . . but they still need to achieve something, and this is where I have my issue with them . . . because . . . well . . . workshops just aren’t that good when it comes to teaching!

Make no mistake, Workshops have their place, but especially when it comes to teaching people new things they don’t know about previously; workshops just don’t do all that well. Worst part is—the majority of the time, it’s not the instructors fault!

Let’s have a look at why—the best is at the end.

Workshops are typically tailor made—for businesses.

Unlike a ‘typical’ course which usually has a pretty fixed format (once developed), workshops (especially) that are delivered in the workplace by an external facilitator are usually created for an audience to achieve a specific outcome, either for each workshop or customized from a basic template.

Although this is fantastic for the business itself, the facilitator is behind the eight ball because they can never have enough information to create the perfect session. Think of it like this.

Your client wants you to teach something for them—you don’t truly know all of the in’s and out’s of their business but you need to teach them new material based on their demands, and get them to an outcome. Challenging at the least.

Picture of two tools
Allen key & Wrench

The facilitator does not know the audience cross section before they get there—especially in the workplace.

The owner of the workshop is in a constant state of reading the audience. On its own this is purely an instructional skill, and all instructors should be able to do this, but depending on the agenda & the audience cross section itself, the facilitator doesn’t know the skill or understanding before they get there.

In a course you have the opportunity to pre-qualify the client before you start—but in workshops you can have a broad spectrum of capability.

For example—let say a workshop is being organized for leadership & management training. The cross section could have lone managers without staff, managers who have never been taught or exposed to external theoretical or practical content but have been simply given a title with no guidance. You can also have ‘managers’ who believe they are the gift to commerce who choose to sit training out! The bigger the skill & knowledge spread the more chance there is for a collective loss of cohesion.

They aren’t lessons & they’re not courses.

Workshops typically take a few hours or even a day to run. A course which fully teaches, revises, practices and assesses a skill can take days to run and lessons can be done within an hour. Workshops are, highly interactive development sessions—to develop known skills & create immediate take away outcomes. So their real advantage is where collective skill & knowledge already has a high starting point.

When it comes to audience engagement & interaction workshops often make use of ‘experiential learning’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ learning. Now as good as this sounds and as well as it works it comes with risks.

Dominant personalities within the audience can easily smother less confident members of the audience. As the facilitator your role then becomes about restraining those big personalities in order to provide more benefit for less confident and experienced members.

But also when experiential discussions are used, there is the element of risk here too. If you can imagine an audience with low experience . . . say a junior team that are all early into new responsibilities without much support or guidance.

Chances are they will get less from one another due to low overall experience, and especially if the group struggles with creativity or motivation, ‘skill ceilings’ can accidentally be put in place; because if the group cannot create new ideas or thinking, then they’re experience is going to be ‘as good as it gets’

The real reason Workshops fail

Time, is not your friend when it comes to skill development. As mentioned courses and lessons can (and should take time) take days. But . . . who has days to spend on training when work needs to be done now?

Workshops (at the high level—on paper) achieve more than a complete course in a shorter space of time, but the overall skill level at the end, and in the following week/s tends to be significantly reduced. Particularly without ongoing guidance, the small amount of information that is retained after a workshop is not fully utilized and with no subject expert around, the audience will tend to avoid new skills out of fear of misuse.

No Learning Confirmation

At least with the sample set of workshops that I see, confirmation or learning & testing of teaching objectives is something that I have never seen. So it begs the question . . . if audience skill is not tested then how effective are the sessions? It’s fine to have a great environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe, but what is the end state outcome? I have seen people attend workshops only to revert back old practices in less than a week after attendance. In fact when it comes to learning—rather than observe facilitators confirm learning, they instead ask; ‘What is the best thing you’ve seen today?’

Really? It’s not about you. Its about the client skill!

Furthermore once you break an audience down into small groups it is almost impossible to teach practical skills, functionally impossible to correct faults and stop bad habits and practices from taking place. In fact when the facilitator is focused in one area, other groups can ‘feel good’ about a bad practice and adopt this as their new ‘skill’ . . . the complete opposite of the intent.

Are they wrong? Should workshops be abandoned?

As I said, (you may find this hard to believe) I genuinely don’t have a problem with them, but like all tools Workshops are a learning & development tool for an audience that is aware of what is being developed.

Workshops are not a tool for new learning! They just suffer too much when it comes to the novice trainee.

Let me say it again—it is a learning & development tool! And like each tool there is a time, place and circumstance in which it can be used and where it is most useful. After all just because you know how to use an Allen Key to assemble Ikea furniture, doesn’t mean you can call yourself a builder.

Workshops have a place in teaching and in skills development, and are really useful especially when it comes to fast tracking milestone & development outcomes (particularly for walk through, talk through practice to get a client to do something for the first time), But make no mistake they are not ‘the best’ or ‘the only’ tool for use when it comes Adult teaching, and to that degree seemingly over used and over promoted by coaches and facilitators. Sometimes the circumstances for their use isn’t in their control—sometimes it’s just what’s expected.

So what method do I use for teaching?

I’ll give you that answer in a minute. Rather than look for an ‘awesome client experience’ an instructor who really wants to make the biggest impact will ‘Make sure the audience learns useful & functional skills. The audience will also have a good time when they do it.’

I got a lot of tools . . . and I use what works!

Coaching & Teaching-What’s the Difference?

Coaching & Teaching. What is the difference?

Coaching and Teaching are very closely related! In fact some instructors will often coach during teaching and vice versa. So if they are so similar how do you know which one you’re doing and when to do so? Between Coaching & Teaching-What’s the difference?

Coaching and Teaching are very closely related! In fact some instructors will often coach during teaching and vice versa. So if they’re so similar how do you know which one you’re doing and when to do so? What’s the difference?

Before we go into the differences let’s take a look at what each are.

Coaching firstly is many things, but there are also a number of things that coaching is not. Namely it is not therapy where issues from the past are dealt with. It’s not consultation where work is done for someone else, and above all it is not teaching.

In a nutshell, coaching looks at the present with a focus on the future. But more importantly is, its method, where it is primarily driven by the coachee themselves. Whether they know it or not, the person being coached (more often than not) actually has the solution already. The coach, and the coaching process is all about revealing that or other options for the person being coached to explore and evaluate, before deciding on a course of action.

Teaching on the other hand can be done in a number of different ways. At its core teaching is the act of communicating information and skills to others in an effort to improve knowledge & skill and also to allow those being taught to be able to gain experience and independence.

So what separates the two?

Coaching and its method can be used for the purposes of reinforcing learning but it does not teach. The real difference between the two is ‘When’ each is used. Neither is better or worse than another, and neither can replace the other. Both methods, teaching and coaching are used at different times.

Let’s imagine you have someone who wants to do a certain task, but they do not know how to do it or they don’t know what is required to make it happen. Coaching this person towards a solution is going to be extremely difficult and will likely fail to achieve a course of action.

It’s down to what the person knows.

In the case above, the person will need to be taught first. Concepts, ideas & hard information will need to be introduced, explained & practiced first in order to increase the person’s awareness of what they are trying to achieve.

If the teaching is successful and the person achieves learning, they may have the ability to ‘self-execute’ and achieve the task they wish to carry out and subsequently reach their immediate goal, without the instructor which is the ideal case.

So where does coaching fit in?

In the above situation which is one of many—coaching works when the person becomes stuck. If the person already has an awareness of the subject or situation they are involved in, then coaching is ideal to re-enforce learnt content, explore options, evaluate these options and work toward a resolution. It also has to be said that in this manner coaching also perfectly complements teaching because if a taught person does become stuck, teaching tends to ‘re-teach’ content rather focus around what the person already has an awareness of and risks creating dependence rather than independence.

In short, teaching and coaching are two different practices—both of which work toward achieving the same thing, where the client develops, improves and excels. Despite having the same end goal both practices work in different ways but most importantly they work at different times.

If a person needs to learn something new—teaching is what we need to do. When the client is looking at ways to progress, advance & improve—coaching is the tool of choice.

What method of learning is most effective?

There are many reasons that we learn. It could be due to curiosity or an outright need to solve a problem that we have to deal with. So what method of learning is most effective? When it comes to your business and the courses you deliver, you need to know how to maximize the effectiveness of your teaching for your clients.

There a numerous ways that we experience and retain information, all the way from listening to it, through to teaching it. And it may seem overly simple, but if there is a more effective way of learning then why isn’t that method of teaching used all of the time?

Realistically it’s not that simple.

There isn’t a one ‘method to teach all’ approach out there, but instead we can look at something like a representation of the learning pyramid to help add some perspective on the issue.

Learning is usually achieved Visually, Audibly or through Doing

You see depending on how we experience information we retain different amounts of it after each exposure. We typically learn in one of three ways; Visually, Audibly and Kinesthetic (Doing & Practice).

These three types can be broken down further in how we experience information and subsequently how much information that we can retain after exposure.

A quick look at the learning pyramid shows that in order to learn most effectively we should be teaching others.

So do we run off and start teaching everyone who will give us their time and attention?

In practice this (thankfully) isn’t how it’s done . . . unless you’ve lost a bunch of weight and start calling yourself a fitness expert.

In my experience I had close to a decade of technical and practical experience in multiple trades before I was taught how to instruct others.

The Learning Pyramid - How much information we retain after being expose to new information
The Learning Pyramid

Why? Because before you’re allowed to instruct others, not only do you need to know what you’re teaching and all of the material therein, but you also have to prove to others (often more senior and experienced) that you satisfy the long list of criteria that is required to justify becoming eligible to be an instructor.

Otherwise you have the risk of people teaching others skills they don’t understand, and delivering it incorrectly and also badly.

Long story short, even once you become an instructor and you’re learning reaches the highest level of effectiveness; you come full circle and are left trying to figure out how to make teaching as effective as you can make it for your trainees and clients.

As an instructor—your learning is very high, but it’s not about you anymore . . . you’re trying to get the most for your students. The more effective your students are, the more effective you are!

So with Teaching off the table; What method of learning is most effective?

The answer will be revealed shortly, and will be evident soon.

Different subject matter will have different demands. Let’s say that you run a course on ‘How to renovate homes.’ Chances are this program will be quite detailed and will have many objective concrete skills that can be taught in practice, whether they be painting, or home staging etc.

However if your course is dealing with something far more subjective and interpersonal such as ‘How to build effective teams’ then teachable content is going to be delivered far differently.


“The more effective your students are, the more effective you are!”

When we put the above examples side by side the differences are easy to see. Different & differing skills are going to need individual and specific approaches. And these adaptive approaches are not only going to be needed for high level content but individual approaches are going to be needed for low level teaching objectives.

So, What method of learning is most effective?

In short . . . the method that achieves the highest level of take away competence is the method that you want to use.

In an earlier article I talked about training for abnormal & emergency situations. Preparing clients for these types of situations ideally is not something that you can simply talk through or show a power point on. It’s something where you want to look at exercise based scenario specific training and have clients actually practice what they need to learn and know.

On the other hand, when it comes to learning how to conduct demolition on parts of a house for renovation this is something where practice is not going to be available or is going to be very limited until it’s done for real, so a visual . . . video of something done earlier will have to do.

What method of learning is most effective?

The one that works for what you’re teaching!


Ready to take your lessons to the next level? Lesson Development & Delivery will teach you everything you need to know to get there.

Training for Emergency and Unlikely Situations

The 404 error
Expect the unexpected

It seems like a dire subject when we think about training for emergency or abnormal situations, but not all training can ever be planned & delivered for completely predictable or ‘safe’ environments or scenarios.

So before we dive into this topic further how can we define ‘safe’?

Safe can have many definitions depending on the industry or the subject that is being instructed upon, but let’s for the sake of the article settle on ‘safe’ being;

“A secure environment where activities can be conducted without risk of disruption & where people have no exposure to any threatening hazards of any sort.”

Let’s just work with it for now!

So . . . When we use a definition such as this, abnormal can technically be anything that falls outside of the above definition and emergencies can not only be disruptive to operations, but also hazardous to the people and material conducting activities.

Training can be Disruptive
Training can be a costly and disruptive process

One thing to think about at this point is that abnormal or emergency situations can typically be regarded as rare. And when we think about rare circumstances our natural tendency is to want to ignore them.

As an example, motorcyclists are encouraged to practice emergency braking techniques often in controlled environments, but how many actually practice? Emergencies likely won’t happen to us, so why bother to keep the skill up to date?

You can see where this is heading, but one point to remember and really take note of is that training is expensive, both as a client, and also as an instructor. So knowing that an abnormal or emergency situation is not just possible but potentially probable and that preparation can be expensive, we are left with two options that we can examine.

  1. Training can be expensive so if a situation is not likely to happen then is it worth covering?
  2. The possibility is known, but we choose not to prepare for it.

One point to make clear now is that abnormal situations vary on an absolute scale between industries and sectors down to certain individuals, but the local scales of the impacts can be large regardless, whether it be a disruption to service or operations leading to some down time through to a situation that can impact on thousands for an extended period.

New York City Blackout, 1977
Some failures will have bigger impacts than others


So what is the cost of training & what is the cost of failure?

This is now venturing into risk management, but training carries two costs. Firstly as a client it is going to cost the upfront value of the training, and also the time that it is going to take to become competent in a skill.

Let’s set time at $100 per hour (Cheap in some circles) and say that a course is going to take 40 hours to complete. As a client you would expect the course to be set at No Less than $4,000 excluding other consumables, and that it will take a week to complete.

If you’re an employer, not only are you going to be staring at $4,000 per trainee, but you’re also going to face 40 hours of disruption while the trainee goes through training and those roles and responsibilities need to be distributed elsewhere.

Naturally if something is unlikely and this can save 10 hours of training then this becomes a corner everyone wants to cut. It gets trainees back into work, clients trained sooner, and costs are reduced.

So this corner cutting can save 10 hours & $1,000 dollars per trainee, but what happens when the training required to handle failure is not delivered?

If an organisation has 20 employees and a manageable failure occurs which disrupts everyone for 2 hours, then the cost of this failure is $4,000 (personnel costs only).

If training could have reduced the impact from 2 hours of downtime to 1 hour, then the extra disruptive training pays for itself after the first failure, and our costs (Theoretically) balance. Each failure in future which becomes better handled actually saves an organisation money. But . . . This is actually not the complete point here. Read on!

So is it about prevention & Risk Management?

Rarely used skills need to be kept up to date for when they may be needed.
Emergency Braking is a skill that must be kept up to date.

Training for abnormal or emergency situations is much less to do with risk management but most importantly more to do with being able to respond and react to the abnormal situation itself—and preventing additional failure once an event has occurred. 

Unlikely situations can be taught, but are seldom remembered when required. How can proper preparation be achieved?

We make the emergency more likely!

The use of exercise or simulator based scenario training is exactly how we prepare for unlikely and emergency situations. Setting up specific training scenarios (where required) is how we create proficiency and skill in people who have to deal with unlikely and emergency scenarios.

Rehearsing specific scenarios is exactly what makes regular people extraordinary in emergency or crisis situations, and this can only be achieved through scenario specific training with repetition.

Soldiers are regular people who have been trained to do extraordinary things.
Training makes regular people extraordinary.

Carefully setting the outcome, creating the situation, and then let the scenario play out. As an instructor in these training situations it can be important not to get involved and simply take notes on what takes place for feedback later. The timely & accurate feedback is what will make your clients and an organisation better where required.

As mentioned training is expensive—particularly on organisations. Staff are out of place, roles & responsibilities need to be distributed to maintain output, and there is also the financial cost. Clients will pay both in dollars and hours, but this final question is not only directed towards employers;

What is the cost of failure?

And to educators running lessons and courses, if you know there is an abnormal situation; What is the cost of ignoring these lessons?