• by Anna Alicia Romero • IDRA Newsletter • March 1998 • Anna Alicia Romero

Training is no easy task. Ask any teacher who has had to prepare a lesson for other teachers. Ask any school faculty member who has been sent by the principal to a conference and is expected to report the findings presented there. Ask anyone who has had to conduct a professional development session.

Regardless of how well the trainer knows the topic, preparing a quality training session requires time and careful preparation. For many of us, it is a painful and arduous process.

But I have found out that, armed with the necessary tools, it is possible – and even fun – to prepare and lead a superb workshop with minimal stress.


When I first began working at the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), I heard people talking about “WOW” training like it was some sort of rite of passage: “Have you been WOWed?”

They talked about the quality and lasting effectiveness of the training. They talked about how “charged” the participants were at the end of the two-day session. This piqued my curiosity. What is the WOW? I finally asked.

The WOW, it was explained, is the WOW: Workshop on Workshops designed by IDRA lead trainer, Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. It teaches the art of planning and conducting workshops.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to participate in this training of trainers session. I experienced first-hand the intensity of the participation, the wealth of information, and the techniques discussed and applied throughout the two days.

A notebook accompanies the training that is a life-saving reference guide replete with examples of training tools that you can use to ensure your audience can apply the new information you are presenting.

People who have “gone through the WOW” say that their approach to leading workshops has changed forever. One person said, “You made my nightmares about workshops go away.” Part of the magic is the unique perspective about adult learning that the WOW offers.

How Adults Learn

Just as pedagogy deals with the teaching of children based on how they learn and develop, andragogy deals with the teaching of adults based on assumptions of how they learn. Principles of andragogy drive the execution of the WOW: Workshop on Workshops.

For example, one assumption is that all adults bring a rich background of personal knowledge and experience that pertain to whatever you want to teach them. Montemayor acknowledges that trainers of adults are often faced with individuals whose past learning experiences may become a barrier. He says that appropriate training bypasses the negative past and concentrates on developing new skills.

One participant stated, “Your workshops have a very unique technique: You bring the good out in every human being.” Montemayor asserts that facilitators cannot create a collegial atmosphere if they speak to their participants as if they are not intelligent adults.

Therefore, one of the keys to effective training is to create an interactive, energetic process. Montemayor draws a clear distinction between traditional lecture-style teaching and interactive teaching. Lecture-style teaching places the learner in a passive capacity while interactive teaching gives the learner importance. It is more flexible, less formal and increases learning. It can also be more difficult to prepare. The WOW makes it easier.

Androgogical Assumptions about Learners

  • Adults learn most when given responsibility for what is learned.
  • Adults learn fastest when allowed to determine the pace at which they learn.
  • Adults are uniquely qualified to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Adults bring a rich background of personal resources and past experiences that pertain to whatever you want to teach them.
  • Adults want to have positive self-concepts and to be treated as autonomous, individual beings.
  • Adults want experiences that build on positive issues and success and that minimize limitations.
  • Adults want to be considered basically intelligent, powerful, flexible and able to change when sufficient reason for change is provided.
Source: WOW: Workshop on Workshops by A.M. Montemayor (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1994)

Features of the WOW

The WOW: Workshop on Workshops takes the participant through a continuous interplay of action and reflection. In short, the process includes the following steps.

  • Assess the needs of the audience.
  • Clarify the workshop objectives.
  • Select appropriate activities and materials (using the WOW: Workshop on Workshops notebook as a guide).
  • Evaluate throughout the process.

WOW participants prepare an actual workshop with a team of other participants. They provide feedback to each other. One participant commented that the most productive aspect of the session was the “feedback on our efforts in writing [because] others noticed things I missed.” Together, participants learn to apply the elements necessary to create a “well-wrought” workshop.

A safe environment conducive to sharing, learning and productivity is modeled throughout the two days. The WOW presenter makes use of furniture arrangement, humor and paying attention to individuals to maintain a rapport with participants. A teacher adds, “The presenter did an excellent job of making the participants feel comfortable and willing to share; I hope I can develop to that level as a presenter.”

This rapport is a major theme of the WOW. “Starting from the participants’ strengths is ‘rock bottom’ in terms of modern principles of teaching adults,” Montemayor explains.

One of the greatest challenges for a trainer is to make the topic interesting and interactive, using the appropriate techniques that convey the material. Types of activities to facilitate learning include quizzes, crossword puzzles, group discussions, anagrams and “warm-ups” (at the beginning of the workshop to alleviate participants’ initial tension). These are fun ways of teaching and reinforcing information.

The WOW: Workshop on Workshops is designed to be adaptable to all kinds of adult learners. It is not exclusive to the field of education or to those who already teach or train other adults. In fact, at IDRA we have used the WOW to prepare first-time parent presenters to lead educators and other parents. Others have used it for their businesses, local non-profit agencies and civic initiatives. The beauty of the WOW and its teaching style is its flexibility to the needs of the audience.

Montemayor says the pay-off is a well-planned and well-conducted workshop that is the most concentrated, most efficient and perhaps most elegant means of training adults. “This is one of the best workshops I have ever attended,” commented one participant, “I really enjoyed being a part of this fantastic, wonderful, marvelous, unique workshop.”

The WOW: Workshop on Workshops is the sum of more than 30 years of Montemayor’s experience in pedagogical roles – school teacher, political organizer and IDRA trainer. Montemayor’s unique process of planning a well-wrought workshop challenges trainers and learners to strive for excellence.

Many elements make the WOW a successful workshop. By trying out the methods, participants learn the art of planning and conducting workshops. More importantly, everyone in the “community of learners” participates and internalizes the lessons – making the themes and techniques part of their actions. They leave better equipped to conduct their own smooth, efficient and successful workshops.

Anna Alicia Romero is an education assistant in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]