The thing you should know before you ever attend a photography workshop, spend money on one tutorial, or invest in even one single conference is this: You are going to be your own greatest roadblock to success.
I have attended upwards of hundreds of workshop situations as an adult learner, mostly as an instructor, but since coming into photography, many as a student. Workshop format and instruction certainly plays a huge role in what a student learns. Cognitive load is one of the many theories in cognitive psychology, which plays into and impacts instructional design and should be something every workshop developer should understand. For most of the population you teach; showing up and just showing people what you do will not be enough. But let's face it, we as attendees have a minor impact in this arena and therefore should direct our attention to what we can control.
Both as an instructor and as a workshop attendee, I do my best to eliminate any potential distractions from my learning days before the class even begins. Start with a to-do list of items that must be returned before the workshop begins; client images, kids projects, business proposals, etc. Anything that might distract you mentally, or physically cause you to leave the classroom. I also remind my wife that we have invested heavily in the learning and ask her to limit communications during class periods, with the promise I will reach out during breaks and after instruction sessions. Expectation management is an enormous portion of keeping people happy. On the day of the workshop, silence your cell phone notifications, turn off all non-vital alerts and turn your attention toward the instructor. After all, it is rude not to give them your attention, but if politeness isn't a motivating factor for you, remember you paid a lot of money to be here, and presumably you desire to learn. Personally, I know a woman who has invested $10,000-plus in photography education, but her work never reflected this. Once I attended a workshop with her; she never got off her phone during the entire instructional period. I no longer wonder why her work has stalled.
Approach the workshop as you would a photography session, don't wing it! Bring a notebook and other class materials. Many photographers are not professional teachers; they are photographers, that's what you know them as. Do not be surprised (remember that expectation management?) if they aren't good at it at all. Do not be surprised if their teaching style doesn't match your learning style. Most, but not all, photography workshops are hands on; if you prefer a particular style, perhaps reaching out to the instructor before the course begins is an effective strategy. Especially if the workshop is at one of the many conferences, do not party all night the night before. Nothing will impact your ability to absorb material like being sleepy and hungover. Buzzkill maybe, but this is where priorities come into play.
If the workshop is hands on, come to the seminar exactly as you would a shoot. Charge batteries, format SD cards, update Photoshop and all other applicable software unless otherwise stated. Unless it is a basic camera class, know something about the machine you bring to the class.
Do Your Homework
We have all experienced that moment: we are home the night before a test, looking over our notes, only to find we have no idea what we were trying to remind ourselves of with the notes. Research has shown that reviewing notes from a class within 24 hours of leaving the classroom is essential for retaining information. So before going to bed after the workshop, review all your notes again. Not only will this allow you a clarify your notes while the information is still fresh in your mind, but it will also help in forming neuropathways, the little trails in your brain responsible for information transfer.
The Dirty Little Secret
A workshop probably isn't going to change your life. You aren't going to leave with any one secret to instantly change your photographic journey. You are going to leave with a collection of ideas that will alter your route. Attempting to assimilate and implement them all will crush you. Imagine the instructor is going to give you a hundred packages throughout the course of the days together. If you attempted to unpack every book at once, you would quickly find yourself overwhelmed and ultimately, quit the task. However, if you were to unpack each box separately, spending a little time with each item before putting it in its proper place, you would find the task much less daunting.
Most workshop attendees I have witnessed, go back to their previous habits almost immediately upon finishing learning. You old ways are comfortable. You have done them for a while, potentially for many years. Your neuropathways that carry you toward these habits are fat and established roads, to change, you will be forging a new trail. The solution here is picking apart the learning. Be intentional in the process. Find one item you want to work on, master it and then layer on another learned item after you have become comfortable with the first. The path to mastery isn't a highway, but more like a trail through very thick woods.
Workshops are great places to understand new techniques, network with other creatives, and meet the people you admire in your field. Making the most of the knowledge you receive will take efforts on your part. Many people fail in this regard, but if you have a plan coming into to the workshop, you will quickly find yourself among the elite performers in your craft.