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.

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?

When are you no longer the Apprentice?

This is a question that came up just recently & also something that I’d come across years ago when someone asked “When are they no longer the noob?”

At the time the answer someone gave was “When you don’t have to ask that question!” Being relatively new to the field at the time, it wasn’t me that gave the answer and being fair I didn’t have one, even if I was the one who was asked.

When are you no longer the apprentice?

But at some point we look back on our journeys whether they’re personal or professional and only when we reflect do we realize how far we’ve come. These journeys are slow & arduous and the progress can be so incremental that we don’t realize that we actually make progress.

So whatever your field is; When are you no longer the apprentice? When can you call yourself the master?

When thinking about this there is no single point where the change takes place, but your Google search history is a far better gauge of where you’re at. It might seem abstract but keep reading.

It’s what you’re looking for.

My conclusion is that there are four key factors that determine whether you’re an apprentice or a master.

1. When your questions change or when you ask different types of questions.

Let’s use the health and fitness industry as an example. There are literally millions of people who have asked; “How to lose weight.”

We have to accept that this is a very generic question for the fitness industry, and an easy question that everyone at some point has asked. Most likely this is the ‘first’ question that anyone asks when they want to ‘get into shape’ whereas someone with more experience may start to ask “How to lose fat?” or “How to build Muscle” or even better “How to boost your metabolism?” In the fitness industry, trainers and instructors typically want clients who ask these questions because they are already more mature than clients who just want to ‘Get into shape.’

2. When you start to research your own answers, and having the confidence to know your research is correct.

Let keep running the fitness industry for consistency. Whether you’re a client wanting to strip fat or boost your metabolic rate eventually you’ll start to do your own research rather than perhaps simply taking what your trainer gives you as gospel.

This is where you’re going to start having the ability to sift through all of the noise such as banana diets, lemon diets, soup diets, and start looking for higher quality information which will be more suited to your needs.

When you finally start to find consistent information from independent sources you’ll have the confidence to determine that what you have found is something that you can work with and learn from.

3. When you start helping others—you know where they’ve come from.

Give it enough time and research and you’re going to start getting results. Nothing is going to attract attention like progress, and once you start to make progress people around you will likely want to know how ‘you got into shape’

At this point in your experience, you’ll have the ability to help & educate others but also to know what question to ask when you start to provide guidance.

The biggest take away to know about here is that the advice and guidance you’re going to give is already going to be more advanced than what you would have searched for when you started ‘your‘ journey.

This means that you are more advanced and skilled than what people are typically looking for.

4. When the questions you ask, haven’t been asked. You can’t find your answers any longer, and you are doing new things.

The final step in knowing that you’re no longer the apprentice is when you begin to look for answers that are not readily available or when you start doing your own research & experiments.

Remember you started your journey with ‘How to lose weight’ and you may have found information about cutting calories.

As an advanced self-taught fitness expert you’re going to be looking for information in the fields of ‘Insulin Manipulation’ or ‘Cortisol reduction’ . . . the list of advanced key word searches is endless which will likely see you looking through research papers on page 2 of Google or beyond rather than Instagram posts.

So when are you no longer the apprentice?

From experience (regardless of the industry) I can say that it comes down to these four areas which all relate to the questions that you ask, and what you look for in your field, and not just about how long you have been doing something for.

After all you can cut calories for years but that doesn’t mean you’re an expert!