I'm sure we've all experienced that professional development session that consists of the speaker going through their slide deck... click... click... click... [insert obvious-answer question]... click... click. And, as a participant, you... sit... listen sometimes... doodle.

"Participant" is a bit of a misnomer really.

As a teacher, I was guilty of doing this myself. I thought I was lively enough. Smiling and passionate about my subject. Engaging. But really, I was spending a good portion time presenting information rather than doing and discussing.

We can all be a bit guilty of this from time to time, and it's understandable! Generally, you want to make sure everyone has a base-level understanding of certain concepts. So that means often you can't just jump into the tougher stuff. The stuff that requires discussion, wrestling with ideas or making plans. The exciting stuff. But...

  • What do people (your learners) enjoy more?
  • What do people come (or pay money) for?

Generally, the things they remember about your workshop or lesson, the things they'll tell others about, are the things that got them doing – activities, role plays, discussions. These doing activities are where they need you, the expert, intervening in real-time, at just the right moment to spur them on or give them that ah-ha moment. This is where the real value is.

For this reason, we think shifting to more of a flipped or blending learning model can really make your workshops more effective. Participants will enjoy your workshops more and feel like they get more bang for their buck.

Let's take a look at an example.

Ali is an expert in Dragons. He gets booked and travels around the country delivering workshops – How to train your dragon. He starts with classifying basic dragon interactions and then moves on to how humans can connect with dragons.

Sometimes he'll have multiple groups in the same company so he'll stay away from home for a few days. He does well. And, people generally leave really great ratings and feedbacks after his workshop.

Then one day, watching a recorded session he notices something. As he's going over the Daenerys effect, some of the group are yawning. Others' eyes looked glazed over as if he's not making much sense at all.

Now that he thinks about it, he's often had this kind of divide. Boredom from those who already have heard the basics of dragon etiquette. Puzzled looks from those who are new to dragon behaviour entirely.

He's thought about splitting the groups up at this point, but then it gets very difficult to manage!

Ali's challenges aren't uncommon. But we think online learning can definitely meet some of those challenges. Here's what Ali could try.

Ali could take much of the theory and explanations and turn them into an online course. That way, learners who are new to the information can spend as much time picking it up as they need. Those more experienced, can skip ahead. Each section of the course could include a quick "have you got this?" task. So that participants can self-assess.

Section Online task
Dragons and humans When a dragon looks you straight in the eyes,
should you... A, B, C?
Dragons in groups From the video, identify what the dragon is
trying to communicate to other dragons.
The Daenerys effect Which of the following would increase the
potential of connecting with a dragon?

Then, in the workshop he could create activities, role plays, and discussions to get participants involved. Activities that reinforce and extend the ideas in those sections. Giving participants a chance to really try things out.

Section Online task Workshop
Dragon interactions When a dragon looks you
straight in the eyes,
should you... A, B, C?
Use cards to roleplay, 1 person acts
follows the prompts on the card to perform a
dragon action, the other has to respond.
Switch roles after some time.
Dragon communication From the video, identify
what the dragon is trying to
communicate to other dragons.
In groups, brainstorm responses they could
make after a dragon behaves in certain ways.
The Daenerys effect
(dragon connection)
Which of the following
would increase the potential
of connecting with a dragon?
Discussion of how they have personally formed
connections with other animals (including humans)
and looking at themes from the discussion.

Here we've made sure the focus of the workshop is on doing, discussing and guiding. Not on presenting information. Ali, as the expert, is able to provide gentle guidance to groups. In practice, this method will appear more similar to coaching than lecturing. This is where Ali's expertise is best placed and what participants will value.


This model works beyond Ali's experience too. It works with a whole range of contexts where you might have just defaulted to a presentation.

  • Staff training on a new system or process
  • Introducing a new management/leadership model
  • Presenting findings from research
  • Adding a new product/service/feature to what your organisation offers

Here at iQualify, we've even started using this kind of model for the new features we release. We create a course on the feature for our team, do a live (or recorded demo), team members also get the chance to play around and see how the feature works, then we have a Q+A for discussion. We bring people together just for the parts where face-to-face (even if virtual) holds the greatest value. It's the best bang for buck in terms of our productivity.

So, instead of your slide-deck workshop, engage learners in a short online course. Then use the workshop (and you) for what they're best at - doing, discussing, guiding. That's a professional development session I'd go to.