I've been teaching workshops for much of the past few weeks, and I've noticed an interesting pattern. I get great comments (and usually good numbers) from people who participate in the workshop. I don't get many comments, and I get substantially lower numerical grades from people who leave their laptops open during the workshop.
These people are convinced they must pay attention to their work issues while they are in the workshop. And, they are the same people who want the “cheat sheet” or the “10-second overview of user stories” (true!). They are the ones who don't participate in the debriefs for the experiential activities. They are the people who don't see the value of instructor-facilitated and experiential training.
I've started a new introduction to my workshops. I say something like this: “I know that you are an adult. I trust you to make the right decision about your laptop open or closed. I will warn you that it is impossible to fully participate in this workshop with your laptop open.” (I smile as I say this.) “You have the choice to leave your laptop open or participate in the workshop. If you choose to leave your laptop open, please don't prevent the other people at your table from working through the activities.” I stop then and start with the workshop.
I have mixed results. The people who believe me at the beginning learn a lot in my workshops. The people who realize I was serious later on in the workshop and finally put away their laptops learn too, and it depends on when they put away their laptops. I can't tell about the people who don't put away their laptops. From the way they debrief the workshop, I don't think they learn much.
I sort-of understand why conference-workshops are like this. Few people expect experiential activities at a conference workshop. (Ha! Gotcha!) Many of them have never encountered interactive and experiential training before. And, too many of them are expected (so they say) to check in at work while they are at the conference.
I don't understand why a company brings me in and expects their employees to be on their laptops all the time while they are supposed to be at training. People really cannot do two things at once and do each of them well. They can do one thing well and the other not at all. They can do both things poorly. But they can't learn and work at the same time.
I do ask people in in-house workshops how often they need to check email and check in back with their teams. I try to have enough breaks and a long-enough lunch to take that into account. But it's quite difficult if the answer is “I have to be on email all the time.” I can't teach and accommodate that request.
If you are attending a workshop, please participate. If you are working, go ahead! But, please, don't try to do both at one time. It just doesn't work.
Remember, the AYE conference is all experiential and interactive sessions. We would love to have you. And, we give you long-enough breaks between sessions so you can email or phone back to work. You'll learn to work better. Isn't that the whole point of workshops?