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Training Course, Workshop, Retreat, Meeting ... Which is it?

Are you providing a Training Course? Or is it a Workshop?

OK, so you’ve identified the need for a training event. Maybe Management Training, or Team Development, and now you’re faced with deciding what kind of event it’s going to be and what are you going to call this learning-themed gathering of staff?

Is it a conference, a retreat, a meeting, a course, or a workshop?

Are all of these interchangeable terms for the same thing? Or is there a difference in what they are for and how they are delivered? And does any of this matter?

I’d suggest that it does, it’s an important part of the expectation management before the event - allowing participants to prepare themselves for what they will experience at the event, and perhaps to prepare themselves for the role they will be expected to adopt.

As an example let’s consider the difference between a course and a workshop as this, in my experience, is the case where getting the terminology right is of greatest importance. The differentiator in this case is the proportion of event time that will be spent on largely individual activity, passively consuming inert content (Powerpoint presentations, written materials etc) in relation to the proportion of event time that will be spent engaging experientially with colleagues and content. A course has a higher proportion of inert / passive content, a workshop has a higher proportion of experiential / active learning.

One of the key learning design considerations a provider needs to make is whether the desired learning outcomes are best delivered through a course or a workshop.

Does the achievement of the learning objectives require, or would benefit from, the participants to actively engage with the learning content through experiment, review, simulation, etc?

You’re delivering a workshop.

Does the achievement of the learning objectives simply require the participants to engage cognitively / intellectually with the learning content through watching presentations, listening to taught content, writing notes etc?

You’re delivering a course.

At RSVP Design we believe that the experiential nature of a workshop is almost always the preferable option, and is something that can be designed to accommodate most learning content. Our tools are designed to be versatile so that they can respond to a very broad range of learning objectives, so crafting a workshop that utilizes them should be fairly straightforward. We do have various ready-made workshops,including  Managing Effective Meetings and Working with A Customer Focus, that serve as great examples of how to use our tools in combination with your content, but if your subject isn’t covered by these then there’s plenty of advice on how to design your own.

Our commitment to workshops is down to our belief, and there’s a lot of science on our side, that having participants actively engaged in their own learning increases both the acquisition and retention of learning. We would aim for the highest possible  proportion of the timetable to be dedicated to building learning-relevant shared experience, reviewing that experience, defining the learning available from this, and then applying that learning to the desired changes in attitude, engagement, and behavior that the workshop has been designed to deliver. This may seem intimidating and risky if it is considered as unstructured time, but if this time is recognised as a structured opportunity for participants to actively explore the desired changes then you’ll get a better sense of what should be happening.

The key message from us is that we’re here to help. We are active users of our own tools and we’ve a wealth of experience we can share. So if you need help then please contact us at [email protected]

Design Director and Lead Consultant

Geoff Cox

[email protected]