A summary of some of the lessons learned the hard way while delivering workshops and training over the last 10 years.
Make all advertising and communication friendly and encouraging.
Attending workshops and training, particularly technology-based ones, can be incredible intimidating for some people. Using friendly and encouraging language on event communication can help make your event more welcoming.
Not everyone who attends is going to be at the same skill level or have the same experience. One of the ways to counter this is to ensure that your event enables peer learning. This means those in attendance with a bit more experience can lend a hand to those who are brand new to the topic.
And if your event is beginner-friendly, make sure you say so. Specify this on event posters and advertising but also throughout the event space and through the event design.
Equally, save the jargon for where it’s absolutely necessary and apply the acronym rule - always spell out what it means on first use.
As a subset of the above, you can also take some steps to make your event introvert-friendly.
It can be easy to let the more outspoken attendees lead the way but it’s important not to let they who shout the loudest rule the event. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
If your event includes working on group projects, make sure everyone gets a role to play in the group and that nobody dominates at the expense of others.
How quickly can learners go from learning the basics about the topic to creating something themselves? Of course, some workshops will have a steeper learning curve than others, but diving into action as soon as possible helps retain learners’ interest and can also help establish an active learning environment.
If it’s a difficult topic, then introduce the main concept and provide a demo before attendees get to have a go themselves. You can return to introducing additional concepts or further detail afterwards. They can then return to their own projects with the benefit of this new, additional knowledge.
This approach is inspired by the work of Dr Barbara Oakley - if you’re interested, we highly recommend ‘Learning How To Learn’). The main thing is to inspire people to want to learn more about the topic.
The way you lay out the learning space matters. Can people scribble down notes and ideas somehow? Can the furniture be re-arranged to suit working in different configurations.
Arrange the space to maximise opportunities for collaboration. It helps if you have furniture that can be moved around and that conversation is encouraged (without it disturbing other users).
Peer mentoring is an important part of a workshop so make sure that learners know that they can work together, ask questions of each other (and, sure, drag the furniture around to allow for better collaboration).
A spattering of whiteboards, markers, post-it notes and sheets of paper can also help with brainstorming and idea forming. And magic whiteboard is a useful addition if whiteboard paint isn't an option.
Not everyone will always want to work on the same thing and the skill level among attendees can vary quite a lot. When designing activities for workshops, try to find things that can be customised and personalised by learners. This will allow them to make something that means something to them which also helps with their learning. Bonus.
You should also leave plenty of room for curiosity. If someone finishes ahead of the others, what can they try out next? Do you have some extensions or variations of the main activity ready for those who are ready for more?
Always encourage questions. This may go without saying but we’ll say it anyway. Questions help, not just the person asking, but the other people who may have been unsure but didn’t know how to ask .
Letting learners search online for solutions to any problem encountered is also useful, particularly for coding and other technical workshops. This is actually a helpful learning process because it forcers the learner to articulate the issue they’re having (and can help with Interleaving - applying the concept to different situations).
It’s not a fix-all but can definitely be a positive part of the learning experience. Helping users troubleshoot and help themselves can help the learning stick and ensure that it’s not something that’s forgotten as soon as they walk out the door.
Leave learners with a pathway forward.
This is something that can often be forgotten or get lost amidst last minute packing up but it’s arguable the most important part - how you wrap up the session and leave attendees with next steps to follow to continue learning or making, and building on what they learned in the session.
Signpost some further resources or upcoming events if you have them. If you don’t have anything specific scheduled, a mailing list is also a good way to keep people engaged.
Another way to provide ways for learners to continue on their journey is to provide something that can take away with them. This might be something they’ve made during the workshop or a flyer of some kind.
nd remember to leave them with your contact information for staying in touch if they have any questions or would like more information following the event.
These are just some of the things you can do to create an engaging and welcoming learning space when running workshops and training. The main thing is to actively encourage participation from learners and to inspire them to want to learn more about your topic.
If you've got any additional suggestions or ways you've created engaging learning at your own workshops and training, please share them in the comments.