Leaving no conference attendee brain behind.
It’s the new motto of the 21st century conference organizer…that is, if you want to get them back next year.
It’s time for associations and corporations to address the root cause of the conference learning crisis: a limited understanding of successful adult learning.
Andragogy – How Adults Learn
Malcolm Knowles championed the word “Andragogy” to describe how adults learn in contrast to how children learn or “pedagogy.” Andragogy focuses on adult learning strategies. It centers attention on the process of engaging adult learners within the structure of the learning experience.
In 1999, the now disbanded Institute For Research On Learning (IRL) created seven principles of everyday adult learning to rethink learning. IRL’s employees were pioneers in adult and informal learning.
14 Andragogy Principles
Here are 14 andragogy principles based on a combination of Knowles and IRL’s research that your conference education sessions should use to ensure successful attendee learning.
1. Learning is fundamentally social.
Learning is about more than the process of acquiring knowledge. Successful learning is often socially constructed and can require unlearning old ways. It may require changes to one’s identity and core beliefs, which can take time and is challenging, yet powerful.
2. Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities and the connections we maintain.
Developing shared values, perspectives, and ways of doing things creates communities of practice and purpose. Learning is about optimizing our connections to people within our communities of purpose that matter to us.
3. Learning is an act of participation.
The motivation to learn is the desire to become an accepted member of a community of practice. It’s about building and maintaining person-to-person connections that bring value.
4. The depth of our learning depends on the depth of our engagement.
We glean knowledge and retain more information from active participation in many different situations and activities. The more we are actively involved, the more our brains’ hardwiring is fired-up and the more we learn. Thus, passive listening is the lowest form of engagement, next to reading information. (You’re reading this now. That’s why leaving comments on a blog, requires the brain to become engaged in more depth and to process this information differently. You have to think about how to respond and how it applies to you before you type.)
5. Engagement is joined at the hip with empowerment.
We perceive our identities in terms of our ability to contribute. We want to have a positive impact on the life and growth of communities and be seen as resources to the connections we have. Engage us and we feel empowered.
6. Exclusion from active participation equals failure to learn.
Learning requires access and the ability to contribute. Fill a conference with one-way lectures and you increase learning failure.
7. WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is critical.
We want to learn subjects that have immediate relevancy to our work. If we don’t get WIIFM quickly through the marketing material or at the beginning of the presentation, we disconnect and lose attention.
8. Big picture first, then the details.
We often don’t return from the presenter’s rabbit trails. Don’t take us into the weeds as our minds are fickle. If it doesn’t fit within our context and we don’t understand why we need to know the information, you won’t earn our attention. The details should support the big picture ideas.
9. Where does this new learning fit in relation to the other stuff I know?
We rely increasingly on our prior knowledge, experiences, failures and successes. That’s why listening to other adults’ experiences help us build fresh frameworks for newly acquired knowledge. We like to ask others questions, especially those that have different experiences from us. It increases our attention.
10. Sell me on why I need to know this.
We must know the why before we know the how.
11. We are problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
Adults are oriented toward solving problems and making instant application. It must meet my relevancy factor. If your content doesn’t resolve my issues, I don’t care.
12. Remove the obstacles and barriers to my learning please.
Don’t turn the lights down or off during the presentation. You’ll lose my attention and I want to see to take notes or type. (Like it or not, our vision and hearing decline as we age). Pay attention to the surrounding environment. Are there physical objects that limit my view? Are there any other environmental factors that will create a barrier to learning through the five senses? Can I see the faces of other participants or just the back of their heads?
13. Repetition increases my retention of critical information.
Use common experiences to relate new and difficult information. It provides a bridge to familiar encounters. Short term memory decreases with age. The more critical learning points need to be repeated in a variety of ways so, it will move from short to long term memory.
14. Let me decide how I’ll learn it.
Informal learning is critical. I’ll get bored quickly if you expect me to sit through another panel dialogue or another hour of a talking head. Provide me with options on learning it. If I want to passively sit and check-out, that’s because I’ve been up too late the night before, or I’ve reached my saturation level. On the other hand, I prefer to be actively involved. And as far as I’m concerned, you as the presenter are guilty until proven innocent. If you use activity to promote involvement, it stimulates interest, retention and I’ll trust you more.
What concerns do you have about applying these adult learning principles to your conference strategy? Which ones resonate best for you? Anything you would add to the list?