What is a good workshop?
I want in this blog post to break down what makes a great workshop. Everyone learns and teaches differently so agreeing on what makes a workshop good, makes for a great start for both learners and teachers.
This is my experiences from teaching workshops over the last couple of years and seeing what has worked and what didn't.
A good workshop is hands-on
A good workshop should end with that you walk away with something when the workshop is done. That can be many things, but something you can say: "I made this". That kind of learning is something you can remember, and if you forget you can always pull back the thing that you made and use that as a reference.
A good workshop should have different topics
The best workshops I know is where you get to learn and topic, where you get to understand the overall idea and then you get practical about it. That means that a good workshop is for example broken into 20-minute increments, where there is a 7-minute presentation and then 13 minutes of hands-on working. This allows the topic to explain, and then time to go deep into it. The important part is that the presentation is not too long or too short, most commonly the introduction is too long and it becomes a presentation instead of a workshop and when the workshop part starts the learners can't remember what they needed to do at the start because there was too much information simply.
This also makes it harder for the workshop teacher, that person needs to think about what the task should be that can be done in those 13 minutes.
A good workshop has ways to deviate
It is difficult to have everyone in the room be the exact same level and experience, so there will always be somebody who is better at some of the things that others. Those that are better is most likely because they are very interested in the topic and that is great, so if you try to make the workshop into something where everyone has to be in-sync and do the exact thing that you have done on the screen, then two things will happen. You will lose those who didn't get it the first time and bore those who understood it or already knew it.
So tasks in a workshop should have an open interpretation of the tasks, it should have something minimal to accomplice but each step should allow the faster ones to do more exploration.
Encourage the learners to help each other
You should let the participants in the workshop know that they should help each other, it is not a race for who can come first or somebody loses if everyone learns the same. No, the people at the workshop are people that want to learn stuff and try new things, those people are the Steve Jobs trouble makers, so letting and encouraging the participants to help and get to know each other can be super powerful.
Teach them the real thing
It is easy to think that a workshop should be error-free and as smooth as possible for the attendees, it definitely makes for a better review if it felt super easy and fly-through, but the problem is that is not the real world sadly! As soon as the attendees then try to do it at home they will not know what to when they first time encounter a bug or something not working, and now they don't have you to ask! The one person that could have helped them! That is a shame, so a great workshop exposes the attendees to the art of getting unstuck, which is really what an experienced in any field are good at, knowing how to tackle unknowns in a field they are familiar with.
That is tools like the debugger, the API documentation, the error messages that tools give, the help messages in programs and command line tools.
"Give a person a fish, and you feed the person for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed the person for a lifetime."
So a workshop without
- topics but with copy-paste
- without any way to make it personal
- encouraging collaboration
- learning the tools,
is not making the best out of the workshop that it could be.