Does Your Annual Conference Provide Education Or Information?

How do you define education?

Seriously, how do you define education? How would you define information? Is there a difference in education and information or are those words synonymous?

Think about the annual conferences that you attend. Do they provide education, information, both, or neither?

Education Or Information?
In the early 1990′s I was working for Keep Texas Beautiful (KTB), part of the Keep America Beautiful affiliate network. I managed KTB’s education, workshops and youth/children’s events in addition to helping plan the annual conference and meetings. Much of my programming was funded from state and national grants that had some narrow restrictions on how the money could be spent.

During my second year at KTB, we decided to hold a children’s and youth conference in conjunction with the annual conference.  It was one of Texas’ first statewide kid’s environmental conferences. In order to secure sponsorship and grant funding, I was faced with answering the above question: Was the kid’s conference providing education or information?

Wow, I look tired from the Texas summer heat and 300 youth!

As a professional educator, I was puzzled by the question. Of course we were providing education. Or so I thought.

In designing the children’s and youth conference, I secured several top Texas educators to help plan, manage and facilitate the three day event with me. The first question I asked each educator was the same one I was being asked: Were we providing education or information at this environmental kid’s conference?

We each struggled with the question and came to some amazing enlightenment. Much of our traditional annual conference programming was actually the sharing of information and not education. It was training at its best, something done by a presenter “to” an attendee. Not something done “with” participants guided by a facilitator.

Defining Information
Wikipedia defines information as “…an ordered sequence of symbols. As a concept, however, information has many meanings. The concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation.”

Wow, that definition says a lot. Information is a concept closely related to constrained communication and sharing data in controlled environments. Providing information is not a process of learning and applying skills.

The U.S. EPA, one of our possible youth conference grant funders, defines information as providing facts, figures and opinions. Interestingly enough, the U.S. EPA would not fund grants providing information programming or services. They would only fund education endeavors.

Defining Education
So what is education?

Wikipedia defines education as “… any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. Education is a concept, referring to the process in which students can learn something.”

Did you catch that last sentence? Education is a concept referring to the process of learning something.

Education comes from the Latin word educare meaning “bring up” and related to educere meaning to “bring out or bring forth what is within” and ducere meaning “lead.” Literally, education is about leading others to bring out the potential from within.

Does your annual conference do that? Leading its participants to bring out their potential from within. When your conference marketing materials lists its education sessions, are they really information sessions or education sessions?

Education Is A Process Not A Product
Education is not a product of an institution or the byproduct of sitting passively in a conference session listening to a presenter. Education is the process of learning something! It requires active engagement by the learner, more than just listening to a lecture.

Hypothetically speaking, if education is just listening to a speaker present information, then why aren’t more conference attendees leaving sessions with minds full of new facts, figures and opinions. Why don’t more registrants leave a conference filled with new information having sat passively, listening to presenters for six- to eight-hours a day for three days or more? If just listening to lectures equated to the full transfer of knowledge and skills being shared, we would have an extremely intelligent society. Everyone would graduate from high school and college. All faith-based sermons would instantly produce throngs of spiritual people.

But that doesn’t happen. Why? Because education involves active participation by the learner.

The U.S EPA defines education as:
Teaching skills in

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Decision making
  • Evaluation and analysis.

Education involves helping others identify the facts, make their own judgments and opinions, and then learn how to apply the facts in various situations. Education is about understanding the consequences of our actions before we make choices.

The first KTB Kid’s Environmental Conference was a success. We had more than 300 young people attend our three day event. And we provided a mix of information and education for our attendees. We took the Keep America Beautiful Five Step Attitude and Behavior Change System and applied it to our conference:

  1. Get the facts.
  2. Involve the people. (Let them make judgments, form opinions and evaluate choices based on the facts. Let them discuss the facts.)
  3. Plan systematically (collaborate, problem solve)
  4. Focus on results.
  5. Provide positive reinforcements. 

How do these definitions of education and information affect your planning of conferences or meetings? Which do you prefer, listening to information or being engaged in learning? What do you think is the right ratio of presenting information to being engaged in education at conferences and events?

Comments

  1. says

    I think there needs to be more emphasis on measuring the quality of speakers, their sessions and materials.

    I’m not talking more surveys. Smart metrics on attendance, participation, feedback and general back channel evaluation to see what people liked.

    With year over year opportunities you should be engaging last years users in your call for papers process, make it more social.

    I think the attendee can really speak to whether they actually learned something or were just bombarded with material and information.

    We just need better ways to let the attendee speak and measure the response.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Kin:

      Thanks for adding your comments. I like your thoughts that “attendees can really speak to whether they actually learned something or were just bombarded with material & information.” I agre that we need some better ways to let the attendee give us their feedback, speak and measure the response.

  2. says

    Kin, that is soooo true! As a speaker, I am so disappointed when I receive survey feedback and find only 10-20% of attendees replied. Even more disappointing is that it seems that when these results come back, they tend to be towards the negative.
    I would be quite dismayed and generally accept that I stink at speaking, except that when looking at the same surveys for other measurements of satisfaction (if food selection, location, etc.), those results are essentially negative as well. This leads me to think that the only people taking the time to complete the surveys are those who were just generally unhappy overall!

    However, when I go back and read backchannel feedback I get an excellent balance of really insightful critique or compliments – helping me to be a better speaker for sure!

    Makes a good case for giving attendees healthy outlets (ie good, protein-laden breakfasts, group walks or yoga), white space to enrich their experience and a chance to absorb the education instead of streaming constant packets of information at their poor weary eyeballs.

    This is my favorite post Jeff :-)

  3. says

    I agree with all shares thus far and would add that I think some all-too-typical pre-meeting planning oversights are:

    a) bringing in speakers who are given little or no insight into the culture of the organization they are speaking for,
    b) making speakers to find out “who they are speaking to” with a couple of questions at the front of their presentations,
    c) not giving speakers some idea of the experience levels of their audience vzi the audience’s capacity for assimilating incongruous or dissimilar information, and
    d) failing to tell speakers up front what the event managers think would be most helpful for their audience to hear from their speakers.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Midori
      Thanks for adding the discussion. I love your additions of providing healthy outlets! Great point.

      @Bob
      So good to see a fellow Keep America Beautiful colleage commenting here. Thanks you! I totally agree with you that meeting professionals could do a better job helping speakers understand the audience, organization and context of the culture. It’s so important for the attendee’s sake!

  4. says

    Jeff, you’re so right with this post – I think it’s one of the big flaws in how our culture defines, delivers and values education.

    My father used to say that a real education teaches you how to think. Most of the subject details wind up as job training.

    My daughter and I have this struggle every day. She wants help making sure she understands the specific answers to questions her teacher will ask of her. I try to give her the bigger picture of why that matters, how it fits into something more interesting, more important.

    I’m sure many presenters here agree: the audience is not always co-operative!

    The Information Age drowns us and demands we constantly filter. I use this value chain to help me:
    Data
    Information
    Knowledge
    Understanding
    Wisdom

    BTW – we named our daughter, Quinn.

  5. Debra Rosencrance says

    Excellent points. I think it’s very significant today in the medical meetings area where we are now being asked to improve performance, which can only really happen with education.

    Jeff, I really enjoyed your presentation today the PCMA Educational Conference. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Debra:
      Great point that meetings organizers are now being asked to improve performance which must happen with education. And thanks for attending my session Monday at PCMA Education Conference. We appreciate your support and readership.

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