Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over and whispers, "Grow, grow."
There are four levels by which workshops are evaluated:
Level 1 - Did participants enjoy the experience?
Level 2 - Did participants learn?
Level 3 - Did participants use the skills?
Level 4 - Did participants' performance improve?
Clearly, Levels 1 and 2 happen in the workshop and contribute to Levels 3 and 4. If Levels 3 and 4 are not reached, the training is largely a waste of time and money. Here are some ideas to avoid such waste.
Evaluate whether you really need to go to a workshop at all. Can you get the information you need from:
a book (self-help)?
an Internet search?
self-paced computer-based training?
If the skill is best acquired in a workshop format, find out if this is available internally or externally. The advantages of an in-house workshop include:
Learning the same skill as others in a similar situation. This will give a critical mass of people a better chance of using new techniques. No one person will feel like an oddball trying new things on his own.
Having the ability to network and share successes and problems with others who are easily accessible.
Less time-wasting. The workshop will probably be tailored so participants can deal with real issues.
Case studies will be confined to organizational issues.
The program may be just in time and scheduled right before you need to put the new skills into practice.
The advantages of an outside workshop include:
The ability to stand back and see the big picture. The workshop cannot deal with the nitty-gritty issues you face. Rather, it would take more of a global approach.
Networking opportunities. Sometimes we believe our organization to be unique. By meeting people from a variety of organizations, we often find that we have similar issues. And more important, we may discover new innovative solutions that have application in our organization.
During a workshop, be it internal or off-site, you will improve your learning if you:
Let the instructor know if you have specific issues you would like to have addressed.
Familiarize yourself with the course objectives. Highlight the ones of greatest importance to you. Focus on them.
Write down key ideas constantly. Develop a summary daily.
Ask lots of questions. If you feel that some of your questions are off track or of little interest to others, corner the trainer at breaks or at the end of the day, to ensure that you get answers.
Participate with enthusiasm.
Practise skills at every opportunity. Participate in role-playing rather than acting as observer.
Sit closer to the front to ensure fewer distractions.
Ask for feedback from the instructor and fellow participants on how you are doing, particularly when you're involved in a role play. Pay close attention to what you are told, without being defensive.
Stretch yourself. The workshop is an opportunity to try things that you've never done before. Failure and mistakes can be an effective part of the learning process.
Ask for feedback on your effectiveness. Listen without being defensive. Make notes on how you can improve.
Find someone you trust so you can mentor and support each other after the workshop.
Offer to give your boss or peers a summary of what you gained at the workshop. This will present you with the great challenge of getting your head around the key concepts.
Before you attend a workshop, consider these issues:
What is your preferred learning style? Do you, for example, prefer to listen and observe rather than do things experientially? What process will predominate at the workshop? Some, particularly the one-day-wonder seminars, appeal to the observers but have little value for the hands-on learner.
Who is providing the workshop? What are his or her credentials? What is his or her training style? Does it match your learning style?
How effective was the workshop for others?