Conferences (and associations) used to be the go-to source for information and content about a profession or industry.
Today, the tools of content creation and distribution actually rest in the hands of individuals. Anyone can create and share content. While not everyone wants to be a content creator, everyone has an interest in organizing and packing information in their own, unique way.
We Relate Differently To Information Today
Today, we relate to information differently. We can receive content at the click of our thumbs, anytime, anywhere.
The roles of experts (authors, presenters) and novices (learners) are substantially altered. What once involved SMEs (subject matter experts) and professional media (journals, books, encyclopedias) can now be managed through aggregate actions of many (Wikipedia, blogs, eCommunities, social networks).
Even professional journals that once held to strict academic peer review guidelines and critical expert discussions have altered their processes. Some journals offer peer review and annotation after publication. Some encourage a greater role for individuals in the formation of ideas before publication.
Associations and conferences should find ways to become the interpreter of information not the source of content. They should help their customers with the sense making function of information not the delivery of it. (See Image 1 above.)
A New Model To Acquire Information
Information can now be acquired in any form desired by individuals. Usually at low costs or even free.
Individuals piece together various forms of content and conversations to form their own integrated network of information.
We take pieces of this information. Add pieces of that content. Dialogue about it. Reframe it. Rethink it. Connect it. Test ideas through conversations. Write about it. And ultimately end up with some type of contextual content and sense-making of what is happening in the real world.
Making sense of new information through peer learning (peerology) and peer networks offers a glimpse of what organizations and conferences should leverage in their education sessions. (See Image 2 above.)
Conference Content Is Not King, Learning Is!
Much of the conference education improvements that we have witnessed have been concerned with new room layouts or improving the delivery of content.
We view content as something our audiences need to passively consume in order to learn. We believe delivering information is like serving a meal. We put it out there for attendees to eat and believe it results in learning.
But our beliefs about conference content and learning are wrong! Our attendees are not containers that need to be filled. We can’t pour information into their heads.
People may say they are attracted to content but in reality they are attracted to the learning experience.
We need to view our conference education through the lens of learning.
- Learning is more like opening a door, not filling an empty container.
- Learning is a process, not a byproduct of listening to a lecture.
- Learning is something our attendees must do, not something done to them by expert speakers.
- Learning requires thinking, reflection, sense-making and the testing of ideas usually through discussion or writing.
- Making sense of information through peer learning in pairs, or threes is a model we should strive for, not in groups of ten, twelve or Q & A with an entire audience.
- Individuals can create their own content in the natural learning process. It should be the norm for conference and online education!
- Content serves as a tool or springboard for reflection, thinking and discussion, not as something that can be handed to our audiences through spoken word.
* Resource for images and insights on information-cycle from authors George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger and their resources Knowing Knowledge, elearingspace.org, Learning and Knowledge Analytics and Handbook of Emerging Technologies For Learners.
How can conferences balance content distribution and peer to peer contextual sense making of that content? What are some ways you’ve made the shift from covering content to engaging audiences about critical pieces of the content through peer learning?