What Is A Workshop?
There are probably as many answers to this question as there are workshops and workshop presenters but, in general, a workshop is a single, short (although short may mean anything from 45 minutes to two full days) educational program designed to teach or introduce to participants practical skills, techniques, or ideas which they can then use in their work or their daily lives. Most workshops have several features in common:
- They’re generally small, usually from 6 to 15 participants, allowing everyone some personal attention and the chance to be heard.
- They’re often designed for people who are working together, or working in the same field.
- They’re conducted by people who have real experience in the subject under discussion.
- They’re often participatory, i.e. participants are active, both in that they influence the direction of the workshop and also in that they have a chance to practice the techniques, skills, etc. that are under discussion.
- They’re informal; there’s a good deal of discussion in addition to participation, rather than just a teacher presenting material to be absorbed by attentive students.
- They’re time limited, often to a single session, although some may involve multiple sessions over a period of time (e.g. once a week for four weeks, or two full-day sessions over a weekend).
- They’re self-contained. Although a workshop may end with handouts and suggestions for further reading or study for those who are interested, the presentation is generally meant to stand on its own, unlike a course, which depends on large amounts of reading and other projects (papers, presentations) in addition to classroom activities.
Why Would You Give A Workshop?
Why choose a workshop, when you could use some other method like a study circle, a course, on-the-job training, etc.? Because there are a number of different ways to teach people things, and because people learn things in different ways, a workshop has some advantages (and some disadvantages, too, most notably the lack of time it provides) over these other methods that make it a good choice in certain circumstances.
- A workshop provides a way to create an intensive educational experience in a short amount of time, when the time for a more comprehensive effort may not be available. Participants may be working, they may be too far apart to gather together regularly, or may simply be unwilling to commit large amounts of time. A workshop can introduce a new concept, spurring participants to investigate it further on their own, or can demonstrate and encourage the practice of actual methods.
- It’s a great way to teach hands-on skills because it offers participants a chance to try out new methods and fail in a safe situation. Failure is often the best teacher, and failure in this instance doesn’t carry a cost. At the same time, feedback, from both the presenter and peers in the group, helps a participant understand what she can do to avoid failure in a real situation.
- A workshop is a way for someone to pass on to colleagues ideas and methods that he has developed or finds important. Teaching a graduate course may not be possible, but he may be able to reach large numbers of people by conducting workshops in various situations.
- Especially for people who work together, a workshop can help to create a sense of community or common purpose among its participants.
When Would You Want To Conduct A Workshop?
A workshop, as explained above, is valuable in certain circumstances. When do those circumstances arise, and when might you choose to conduct a workshop over other methods of education or training? There are a number of situations in which a workshop would be the best choice:
- The beginning of something new.If your organization is adopting a new method, or your community initiative is taking a new track, there are often new pieces of information or ways of functioning that people must learn. A workshop, or series of workshops, is a way to introduce these in a short time and get people ready for the change.
- The initial training of staff or volunteers. Workshops are often a good way to train new staff members or volunteers in the philosophy, methods, and functioning of your organization, or in techniques they’ll need to do their jobs.
- The in-service or ongoing training of staff or volunteers.Workshops in different issues, techniques, etc. are a good way to keep staff and volunteers fresh and thinking about what they’re doing.
- Staff development.Workshops are often used as a way of honing professional skills and learning about new developments in the field.
- The demonstration of a new concept. If someone in an organization has been exposed to a particularly exciting new idea or technique, he may want to conduct a workshop on it for his colleagues, or the organization may want to bring in someone to do so.
- The explanation of something to the public. An organization may conduct a public workshop on its issue, in order to make sure that people are informed about its cause or about what it is doing. An adult literacy program may hold a workshop on illiteracy in its local area, for instance, or a shelter might hold one on the causes and consequences of homelessness.
- The availability of a knowledgeable presenter.If you have particular expertise in a subject, you may be asked to present a workshop to staff or members of another organization, to the public, at a conference, etc. Well-known people in a given field are often invited (and paid) to travel long distances to present workshops.
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