Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

Next Thursday, Aug. 23, I’ll be piloting a new workshop called What’s Your Story that I designed for a San Francisco-based career services company.

Thanks to Sustainable Sanitation's Flickr stream

Thanks to Sustainable Sanitation’s Flickr stream

I’ve invited job seekers and adult educators in my networks to participate, and in two days we’ve almost filled all 15 workshop seats.

Why pilot a workshop?

Though piloting may be a luxury in terms of money and time, it is incredibly helpful when it’s possible to do it!

Both educators and learners benefit from pilot workshops —

  • Instructional developers test out a new lesson plan, assessing timing and flow, and evaluating holes in content and practice — and then revise the workshop’s design and materials before distributing it!
  • Pilot facilitators get to hear feedback from a friendly audience who have volunteered to give feedback.
  • Pilot participants get to learn for free, network, and hopefully have some fun — plus a chance to influence the final version of the workshop!
  • Future facilitators get to deliver tried and true materials, even when they’re relatively new.
  • Future participants (ideally) experience stronger learning outcomes as a result of workshop revisions!

Finally, just like a comic who tries out new comedic material on audiences in smaller markets, educators who beta testing their instructional materials can risk learning in public (a.k.a., getting rotten tomatoes thrown during a new workshop!) in a safe environment.

Tips for piloting

Start small — even if the workshop is meant for a larger crowd, limit your pilot to 10-20 participants;

Target your audience — make sure your pilot audience represents the workshop’s target audience. For example, if your workshop is for nonprofit fundraisers, invite fund development professionals, AmeriCorps VISTAs, and nonprofit board members to the pilot.

Of course, invite your peers in the adult education field as well — your colleagues can be an invaluable set of eyes on the ground for you (spies, if you will!) who can speak your language when they give you constructive feedback.

Take notes — during the workshop, take notes on timing and content.

  • How much time is it actually taking to go through each part of the lesson?
  • What ideas do pilot participants bring that you should include, either in the workshop or in the participant workbook?
  • Which activities need clearer instruction or a more (or less?) challenging assignment?

Feed them — provide food for the kind people who’ve volunteered to be your guinea pigs!

Evaluate them — in your smile sheets (post-workshop evaluations), don’t just ask how they liked your training — ask what they learned and what they wished they had learned.

Ready to pilot?

If you want to pilot a workshop, I can help!

What’s been your story?

Have you beta-tested your workshops in the past? How did that go? What advice would you offer other people thinking about doing the same?

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