Workshops Don’t Work

I recently participated in a basic one-day first aid and CPR training workshop. Although you don’t need a medical background, it would have been easier if I had one. The course was very intensive. A lot of great information and demonstrations were packed into 6-8 hours. By the end of the day, my head was spinning. I actually felt more concerned about the knowledge I lacked and how I would remember it all, once I was done. I knew it was going to be challenging trying to retain everything I learned, let alone putting it to practical use.

As a business person, you may have experienced a similar feeling after taking a one-day, or maybe even a two day workshop. You participate in the training to learn new strategies and skills. You promise yourself that you’re going to incorporate what you learned into your next presentation or your next client meeting. But a few weeks after the workshop, you realize you’ve already forgotten some of the key steps and details, and you’re back to square one. And you go back to your old ways.

The fact is, workshops don’t work. At least, not the way they are intended to work, as an effective method of teaching new skills. Memory overload prevents us from absorbing and retaining information for later use, unless we revisit that information on a regular basis. That’s why many people inevitably encounter something called “the forgetting curve,” after taking a workshop. It’s a concept developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus whose research theorized that the human brain forgets information unless it’s put into practice. The longer the lag time from the dispensing of information to practical application, the less likely it is that a person will retain what they have supposedly learned.

I’ve seen the “forgetting curve” in action, and not just after my first aid workshop, but as a former teacher. It’s why I use the concept of “practice over time,” in all the courses I offer at The Language Lab. All courses consist of 10 assignments over a two-and-a-half month period. And each assignment only requires a short period of time to complete.

I take this approach at The Language Lab because time and time again I’ve seen how true Ebbinghaus’ theory is. Information absorption is greater when information sharing is spread out over a longer period of time, and it is linked to the practical use of a skill. Regular practice connects us directly to our goal, as opposed to the initial act of learning itself. As Josh Cardoz notes in “Overcoming the Forgetting Curve,” if we want to improve performance, the emphasis should be on how training connects to the outcome, rather than just the training itself.

Also worth noting: People simply need time to learn, as Sheri Weaver points out on the blog Steal These Ideas. Human beings don’t tend to do well if the learning process is rushed. To put it in monetary terms, the ROI for any kind of training in which you participate is you actually retain what you learned. You’re also able to put it to use. In fact, you could call the practice over time approach “the remembering curve,” which leads to a much more desirable outcome, whether you’re saving lives, or building a business career.

To find out more about “practice over time,” contact me at The Language Lab.

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