This is Why You Never Learn Anything From a Workshop

The world is filled with bad workshops. I would almost go so far as to say that MOST workshops are crap. There are many reasons for this, so let's start with the most obvious but almost universally overlooked: the learning objectives.

Learning objectives are key but not enough

Learning objectives seems obvious but it has to be crystal clear. It dictates everything.


"Teach participants how to give a great presentation"

But the learning objectives need to be further defined. The real question is: what are the actions associated with using the teachings in real life?

Actions speak louder than intellectual brain fluff

This is the real thing here. I believe that learning has not taken place if it only exists in the brain as a concept. It is only truly learned when it is applied by the user in the correct situation in the right way.

This is where almost every single workshop falls short. You will listen, play with post-its, talk, and reflect. And then you go back to real life, the situation happens where you could use the newly acquired skill and... You just do what you've always done.

You might think - oh, I should have done that thing I learned. But you didn't.


Because you haven't learned anything. You have just touched on a subject on an intellectual level.

Some people are self-teaching maniacs and break my argument

But some people still learn from workshops. And from books. They can do it in real life later. But the effort they need to do to get themselves to make that change is huge. And most people, even yourself, will fall short of this most of the time because of the effort required.

But some go through the effort, use the stuff they got from a workshop and apply it in real life.

But then comes the harsh reality in play. They will most likely have a somewhat bad experience at it. It won't work as it should. It might even make things worse.

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"She tried doing something she heard in a workshop and that cost us the deal. What an idiot, she should never... Oh... Hi Anna! We were just talking about how close you were in scoring that last deal..."

But in the workshop, this looked so easy... Why did it go bad? Because it was her first time! Of course, it was difficult. She'd never done it before!

What can be done about this?

That's the whole thing why the learning goals are so important. What needs to be taught during the workshop is not what something is, it is how it is done. And not on an intellectual level, no-no. You learn by using your body, talking, moving, and interacting.

When I design my workshops I don't even care about the intellectual part. My participants can find that out by asking me after the workshop or doing some searching on their own. I want them to learn. They should come out of the workshop ready to act and do it right enough the first time.

The focus has to be on the actions. In the stage example from the beginning, here are some things that I want the participants to be able to do:

  • Standing comfortably on the stage, feeling proud projecting confidence
  • Creating teaching loops by recording themselves, reviewing, and making new ones
  • Using emotions to make the talk more interesting
  • etc.

In my workshops, we will actually do things like this, in small steps. The the end result is that you are actually able to execute on what you have learned. How the steps can be designed in order to build up to that point is a topic for another article.

Why is using your body so important?

The obvious one is practice makes perfect. Just like in the example previously, the first time you are trying something, it will often go bad. By imitating real-life situations you can get the first bad repetitions out of the way so you don't embarrass yourself when it's needed in a critical situation.

Secondly, learning assisted by a great coach makes all the difference. It is really hard to know what you do right and wrong when you are just starting. In a simulation setting, you can get the proper feedback you need to improve.

(This is talked about in length in Anders Ericsson's great book "Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise")

Thirdly, you need to create new triggers for your actions. We, humans, act most of our time on routine. We don't do almost anything requiring real mental effort on a day-to-day basis. A friend of mine once stated, "I don't think humans are in full control of their actions for even 10 % of the time".

To create the new mental pathways, you need to act them out. Or at least vividly imagine them. Or my favorite, role play, a combination of both :)

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Sports, military, and show business

Most of you reading have some experience with either sports, acting, or military service. I hope you are seeing a pattern. This is what the best coaches have been doing for decades. It doesn't matter how much the coach/officer/director talks about your new way of doing things, if you haven't practiced it on the field you will not be able to execute in real life.

It will also create a lot of anger from the team since you are no longer working well together.


Whenever you want someone to learn anything, make it practical. I would even say that you go so far as skipping 95 % of all intellectual talk and go into action as fast as possible without anyone getting hurt.

I hope you find this perspective useful and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

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