Training labels: What should learners expect from seminars and workshops?

Earlier in the year, I outlined the differences between coaching, training and consulting – or at least as Optima Training defines the terms. It was a well received piece that prompted some interesting discussions, so I decided to follow it up with a similar item on training sessions.

In a competitive training environment, providers strive to make their offerings more attractive to customers by using ‘less academic’ language to describe their services. This can lead to confusion in the market as the distinctions between specific types of training are lost.

For example, I recently attended a session advertised as a workshop, which would be ideal for my active style of learning. However, I was very disappointed when I realised I was actually sitting through a lecture. In the discussion that followed, the organiser defended the decision to label the session as a workshop because ‘people don’t like going to lectures’.

In my own view, lectures are ineffective as a vehicle for delivering effective training; slapping a new label on them doesn’t help.

Optima Training have long advocated standardisation within the industry. The terms that we use to describe our offerings are like food labels – each has a very definite meaning. It helps our customers to understand what they are getting.

The training continuum

Lectures are the least interactive of teaching methods; delivered one to many. The one way transmit of information makes the maximum effective duration of a lecture around one and a half hours. They are most commonly associated with education providers such as Colleges and Universities, which are probably the only environments where the lecture has any merit. As students typically use lectures to underpin their own studies, the problems with the lecture style can be overcome in an academic education setting. However, they are not effective training vehicles for and should not be used in a business context, where learners will have limited time to undertake supplementary studies.

Certainly if the lecture format is adopted, advances in virtual learning environments have rendered the lecture hall obsolete.

The closest that Optima Training gets to delivering lectures is when we are asked to deliver a Keynote speech, which has a similar duration and format. However, as anyone that participated in the Keynote delivered to Wiltshire College last August by our Education Director, Jo Small, we don’t really do Keynote speeches either.

Probably the most common form of business training is the seminar. It also suffers from an academic sounding name and is often incorrectly labelled to make it more appealing. You will quickly recognise if you are in a seminar.

Seminars are presentation led training sessions that can become a lecture by any other name if not properly balanced by the trainer. The learner interaction comes from discussion, which is facilitated by the trainer who ensures that key messages have been understood, draws lessons from the group and reinforces key points.

Seminars can last about three or four hours in duration. Any longer and the session starts to lose its effectiveness, requiring a greater range of interactive activities to keep learners engaged.

Workshops build on the seminar format by including a number of activities to encourage learner engagement and participation. Ideally, the activities will allow opportunities to apply new skills and knowledge to the learners’ own organisation.

The workshop format makes it ideal for a full day, as this will provide ample opportunity to gain new information, practise acquired skills, reflect on how they can be used and then begin working on projects to transfer the knowledge to the organisation.

More focused workshops can be delivered in four hours, which works particularly well when delivered as part of a series of sessions.

Masterclasses is a term originally applied to a method of teaching music, where students perform in front of the master and the group before receiving tuition. It is essentially a way of delivering specialised content in an active one-to-many environment.

Today, the term is widely used as a marketing term to replace the word workshop, which is itself often used to describe seminars. Optima Training defines Masterclasses as workshop style sessions that are delivered by experts in a specific subject. The duration of a Masterclass can be up to one day but the higher fees associated with acknowledged experts typically results in shorter sessions of between two and four hours.

Experiences are the pinnacle of training provision in terms of active learning. Optima Training uses the term when referring to immersive learning, which in the context of languages exposes learners to practical application in real life situations with the safety net of a trainer on hand to provide guidance and feedback when required. The learning experience is enriched by placing it in the context of the target culture. The longer the duration of the experience, the longer lasting the impact.

Tasters are just that. A short version of any of the other training methods discussed above. As they are intended to inspire learners to do more and showcase the training provider, they are most commonly based on the workshop format, involving high levels of interactivity and participation. Short durations of up to three hours means that the focus of a taster is normally on providing an enjoyable experience, rather than on delivering sustainable learning outcomes.


This is how we at Optima Training describe our offerings to you. However, if our dream of a standardised food label for training providers is to become a reality, the language that we use has to resonate with the intended audience.

We want to hear what you think. Head over to our Facebook page and let us know what these terms mean to you. Have you seen other language used to describe training that you have attended recently – how did it get your interest and was it what you expected?

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