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What is a workshop?

Does The Amount Of Experiential Content Make It A Workshop?

I once heard an old-school manager railing against being invited to attend a workshop I was delivering. The session itself would be nothing too heavy, an opportunity to contribute ideas to help formulate a plan that would guide the future of his business unit: and I was comfortable that this wasn’t just a cynical, placatory gesture. On opening up the conversation with the manager it turned out that what he was objecting to was the idea that this was a ‘workshop’ when, to him, it was a course or a programme “What is there in it that would warrant calling it a workshop?” was his point of argument, and it’s actually a very good question. 

The term ‘workshop’ seems to have been widely adopted in preference over any other terms to mean any event where people come together to achieve a specified set of learning outcomes, irrespective of the content or androgogic approaches used in its delivery. As a committed advocate of experiential methods this gives me some difficulties, in that my own opinion is that to be called a workshop the event should deliver a substantial part of its content via experiential tools and techniques. Under this definition an event that is delivered didactically, perhaps using slides and printed material to support the teaching, isn’t a workshop but a programme.

Reflecting on this personal viewpoint I realise that there must be a threshold where a percentage of content delivered experientially suggests that what is being designed or delivered may be considered to be a workshop. The higher the percentage of experiential content, the more comfortable I am with calling the event a workshop. 100% isn’t beneficial to learners (despite a request from a recent customer) in that some elements of any programme will respond better to designing-in more traditional approaches. So I’ve ended up looking at some of the Workshop packs that we’ve designed for sale under the RSVP Design brand to ask “what’s the balance of approaches in these products?”

We currently offer ‘everything you need to deliver’ packs for the following workshops.

These comprise of experiential and support materials, workshop notes, facilitator guide and participant workbook for a single day (or usually 4 x 2 hour units) workshop.

All six workshops are also available as a “Workshop Package’ here:


Looking through these packs it seems to me that, in considering these to be workshops, I’m setting my qualification threshold somewhere around the 70 – 75% of content being experiential, (depending on what is considered to be experiential, which is a different debate). That feels about right to me, and should allow even inexperienced facilitators, or line managers, to deliver a quality workshop that achieves the defined learning objectives. Perhaps the success that we know customers have with these packs suggests that we’re not the only ones who believe that this is hitting the right balance of content?

Perhaps as the financial year draws to a close for many people, it’s worth considering what workshops you hope to deliver next year, and asking whether picking up one or more of these workshop packs might be a more efficient option than designing your own?

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