The conference session is not the appropriate shell for most learning experiences.
The sixty- or ninety-minute presentation was created for the convenience of the institution, not the learner.
The conference session is a triumph of standardization and it is so ingrained in our thinking we still buy and sell seat time rather than performance improvement. It’s the industrial revolution model, which puts a higher value of efficiency than on effectiveness. It clearly was not designed for the brain to be active and engaged. Instead it was designed to fit nicely into a session track grid and for the brain to be passive.
Let’s face it; most employers don’t care about learning. They care about results. We all win when our conference delivers education that leads to improved results.
Their bottom line is organizational performance, not individual enlightenment.
They may talk about and support professional development with their employees. Yet in the boardroom results always trump learning.
So why haven’t we blown up the traditional conference model and updated it for a knowledge workforce and digital age? Why haven’t we added elements borrowed from successful unconferences and interactive unique learning formats?
Most conference sessions by their very nature are face-to-face talking head lectures. Conference organizers seek everything possible to support their high-grade face-to-face experience which falls flat if the presenter is not dynamic. Or it does not offer relevant takeaways.
Most conferences provide a broadcast mode all the way, with one-way monologues and panelist dialoguing with each other. Telling the audience how it is or why last year was so crappy. It’s undynamic and the attempt to take questions from the audience does not equate a discussion. The audience is creative, bright, thoughtful and their brains are being numbed to death by one-way talk. (Read more on Scott Gould’s thoughts about The Social-Broadcast Matrix.)
Conferences should provide a variety of blended learning experiences for attendees. Not just the sixty- or ninety-minute conference session. It may include storytelling, lectures, table discussions, group process, a site tour, OpenSpace, content broken into chunks and dispersed throughout several days, hands-on exercises, simulations and more. It will include a balance of formal and informal formats. The conference sophistication comes in concocting the appropriate blend to fit the conference audience.
The key ingredient is interaction. Interaction is the glue that holds all the pieces together. It comes in many forms–not just instructor to learner. It may be content-to-learner, learner-to-learner or learner-to-infrastructure. In today’s digital, social world, you’ll see audience gravitas if you intentionally facilitate and become the conduit to more person-to person interaction that you have in the past.
Interaction can create an experience so compelling that it makes attendees hungry to learn and drives otherwise sane people to pay $4 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
I say, “Conference sessions are dead,” for shock value. They have a role to play. But I hope conference organizers cease using traditional lecture-based presentations or panels as the knee-jerk solution whenever we think of conference learning.
We need to crush the old paradigm of workshop leader spoon-feeding participants in every conference session. We need to provide a blend of learning opportunities and let the attendees choose the type of learning experience they want. We need to let them roll up their sleeves, participate and get involved.
Don’t you think? Or do you still want to attend a conference full of sessions with monologue lectures from talking heads?
What’s your take? And please do share some examples of great conference interaction that you’ve experienced lately.