Learnscaping Your Conference Education Strategies

Time to do some weeding and pruning of your annual conference education strategies.

Do you landscape your yard?

If you live in a condo or apartment, you may not have a yard. Although someone is usually paid to maintain the facility’s grounds and landscaping.

Landscaping involves transforming the natural environment of a specific part of land. Almost any type of land can be landscaped. It includes working with living elements like plant and animal life often referred to as flora and fauna, natural landforms, a variety of terrains, various land elevations and sometimes bodies of water. It may also include human elements like walls, fences, buildings and natural elements like weather and sunlight.

Landscaping is both an art and science that requires good design and observation skills. A good landscaper studies the elements of nature and construction, and blends them together successfully. Experienced landscapers know that the environment is constantly changing and that what worked yesterday is different from what may work in the next month. The landscape environment changes with the seasons and time.

Learnscaping Your Annual Meetings
Like landscaping, meeting professionals and conference organizers need to consider learnscaping their events.

“A learnscape is a learning ecology,” says Informal Learning author and education expert Jay Cross. [I confess. I’m a Jay Cross and Internet Time Alliance junkie. I devour most of what they write with passion!]

Learnscapes are places where learning programs take place. They are designed so that learners can interact with each other, the facilitator and the content. Learners are not bound by rows of chairs and long winded diatribes rather they are engaged with each other self-directing their own learning in a variety of ways.

I like to apply Cross’ learnscape concepts to the annual conference environment. Just as professional landscapers study the existing location, a learnscape designer starts with studying the existing conference setting. They view the conference experience through the lens of learning before they begin their planning. They want to ensure that they are providing a variety of ways to optimize learning and not just using a one size fits all learning model.

Traditional Conference Education Strategies
Traditional conference organizers often start by building their education sessions from the ground up. They use the standard training program, typical passive speaker presentation and classroom settings as the only valid way for someone to learn. Their conferences are flush with talking heads, courses, sessions, theatre style seating and ultimately, passive attendees.

Embracing Learnscaping
Conference organizers that embrace learnscapes focus on creating flexible environments that nurture learning rather than just talking heads that attempt to force information into attendees’ brains. They create both informal and formal learning opportunities that allow attendees a choice in their learning.  They provide a great fertilizer blend of learning opportunities that include top-down authoritative controlled presentations along with horizontal, peer-to-peer, networked learning. They leave the choice of learning to the participant.

In addition to traditional formal training courses, meeting professionals that embrace learnscaping provide environments that are conducive to self-directed, community interactions among likeminded attendees .They intentionally set up informal public areas with a variety of seating options including lounge chairs, sofas, and highboys in small groupings. They ensure that these areas have plenty of free Wi-Fi access, electricity and recharge stations. They encourage attendees to use these areas to brainstorm, build communities, collaborate, conceptualize, coach, converse, co-create, explain, explore concepts, forge partnerships, inform, learn from each other, mentor one another, problem solve, share ideas, teach each other and tell stories. Sometimes they even seed these areas with subject matter experts to share specific bite size content or for question and answers.

Embracing learnscapes means welcoming natural, organic social interactions. It’s about seeing attendees as natural organisms in the nature of learning. Gardeners don’t control plants. They ensure that plants have all the elements for survival and growth and get out of the way. They plant seeds, water them, provide the right soil mix and watch them grow. They don’t stand over those seeds and lecture them with more information assuming that will provide the right ROI.

The Learnscaper’s Goal
A landscaper’s goal is to create a harmonious environment that is pleasing to the senses and takes advantage of everything available. A meeting professional  that has adopted a learnscape mindset has a goal of creating an environment that increases the participant’s longevity and learning as well as the sustained health of the conference organization.

What aspects of learnscaping appeal to you most? What concerns you? What do you wish conference organizers provided at the annual meetings you attend? How can you incorporate more learnscaping into your future events and meetings?

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