How can HR leaders structure workshops to ensure people get the most out of them? Chew Han Guan, corporate L&D manager at an aerospace company shares his views.
The key reason employees are sent for training is to gain the skills or competencies to perform their jobs. Workshops are a popular training choice among organisations due to the relative flexibility, specificity and ease of implementation compared to other more resource intensive forms of training, such as on-the-job training, apprenticeship, coaching, mentoring and academic qualifications.
The plug-and-playability, focus and customisability of topics of needs and straight-forward tracking are its undeniable strengths.
However, the structure, delivery and deployment of workshops pose certain limitation and constraints. According to well-known education theorist David Kolb, learning is most effective when all four learning modes of concrete experience, active experimentation, abstract conceptualisation and reflective observations are engaged.
In the case of workshops, learners do not have sufficient time or resource to complete the learning process.
Kolb’s learning cycle
Expecting learners to become gurus after attending a workshop is akin to a group of amateurs attending a one-week boot-camp on mountaineering and then being expected to scale Mount Everest. This is an exaggerated illustration, but it serves to highlight the skill gaps that continues to exist even after workshop training.
Learners need more help to move up Bloom’s taxonomy of learning levels from remembering and understanding, to the more elusive levels of application, analysis, evaluation and creation. This is important because it is only at the level of application and beyond that more opportunities exist for tangible value-adding, where ideas and knowledge turns into better actions, behavior and habits.
Let’s look at another example. Can we learn and apply better customer service skills straight after a consecutive two days 16 hours service excellence workshop? There seems a better chance for success here, provided that the learner is innately predisposed or had prior service experience. But for the uninitiated, it seems unlikely, given the fact that call centers and hotel need to put their employees through long hours of on-the-job or simulation training to practice and hone their skills.
Workshops lack the time for learners to practice, reflect and obtain feedback from real situations because of the nature of their instructional architecture and design. Although, interactive and experiential teaching and facilitation techniques can aid learning and mastery, I feel more can be done within and around the framework of the workshop. I have three suggestions:
1. Stagger the workshop
Instead of conducting workshops consecutively, why not break them up into two or more sessions? Impart the necessary knowledge and skills needed in the first session and send learners off with an exercise to practice the newly acquired skills and knowledge. After a short break, get them back to present their success stories or share their challenges.
Debrief them and provide some constructive feedback. I believe when it comes to practice, the more the merrier. When left to their own devices, how many will be motivated to actually practice what they learnt? By staggering the workshop, a pseudo on-the-job training, assessment and feedback session can be forced into the training. This can accelerate the learning by clearing blind spots quickly during the cognitive stage of learning so learners do not get frustrated by initial setbacks.
The idea is not dissimilar to that of the Kirkpatrick’s level three evaluation which requires an assessment of an improvement in skills and behavior change after periods of months has elapsed. Although not as rigorous, this is easier to implement and can be a useful supplement for L&D professionals.
Expecting learners to become gurus after attending a workshop is akin to a group of amateurs attending a one-week boot-camp on mountaineering and then being expected to scale Mount Everest.
2. Supplement the workshop
Prior and post-training support and resources are an important part of the learning process to fully exploit the benefits of a workshop. For example, pre-workshop surveys, focus group discussions or psychometric analysis can help facilitators better identify the training needs of the learner group to effect a more targeted and contextualised session.
Pre-class reading or tests help learners build the basic knowledge of the topic so that they go to the training prepared and ready to appreciate the content. It also gives the facilitator more flexibility to incorporate more practice time and focus on more complex issues.
After the workshops, provide learners with the convenience of learning resource in simple bite-size when they need it. For instance, during the learning needs analysis (LNA) cycle, why not email blast a one page quick reference on how to perform the LNA to the employees in the organisation?
When there is an urgent need and purpose, the motivation to learn will be multiplied. This also gives learners a ready learning solution to provide to other learners when queried, helping to spread the learning.
3. Refresh the workshop
As the over-arching tenet from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the process of learning should be continuous and we should continuously strive to “sharpen the saw”. Why not enhance workshops with short refresher or booster sessions where learners can come back to pick up what they have forgotten, learn more advance topics or discuss their insights on a regular basis every half, or one or two years?
Or, conduct brown-bag lunch seminars or info-sessions to update on industrial best practices. Inputs and feedback gathered during such sessions may also be channeled as improvement points into succeeding workshops so future learners can benefit. The objective and aim is to always look at any learning solution holistically and to see how best to facilitate the learning to encourage application.
Workshops are good to start the learning process for the busy adult learner, but we can gain a lot more leverage if we can think of more effective and innovative ways to deploy, structure, enhance and build around them. Of course, the strategic enhancements selected will ultimately depend on the learning outcomes and objectives of the training and these enhancements will also be moderated by the training resources available to support the initiatives.
I will argue that if time, money and effort are already invested in the training of the employee via the workshop, why not do a bit more to nurture the seeds of knowledge and help the company harvest the fruits of productivity gains?
This article is written on a personal capacity and does not express the views and opinions of my employer.