Myth: The more we sit and listen to conference lectures, the more we learn.
Fact: Our memory is both the engine and the bottleneck of learning. The more information we receive without thinking about it, the more we corrupt our learning.
Three Critical Factors Of Working Memory
Working memory is the part of your mind that manipulates information. It is responsible for awareness, learning and thinking. We often call our working memory our consciousness.
1. Active Processor
Working memory is the conscious part of your brain that learns, solves and thinks. You are using the active processor right now to read this.
2. Space Limitations
Working memory has a limited capacity. It can hold three to five meaningful things for just a few seconds. For information to move from working memory to long term memory, we have to think about it, process it and create our own organized schema for it.
3. Dual Channels
Working memory has dual channels for visual and auditory information. It stores visual information in a different location than auditory information.
Visuals trump information received from other senses. The brain gives preference to information received visually and information retrieved from the visual storage center. Concrete words that can be encoded both as phonetic data and a mental image have a great probability of being stored in memory.
Corrupted Learning: Cognitive Overload
When we load up our working memory with content, irrelevant stuff, or too much information we corrupt the learning process. It is similar to releasing a learning virus in our mind that erases all new information being received. We create cognitive overload.
Listening six to eight hours of conference lectures without thinking or engaging the mind leads to cognitive overload. We corrupt our minds.
From Working Memory To Long-Term Memory
The learning process that occurs in working memory results in new or expanded patterns stored in long-term memory. The more we think about something, the more it will be stored in working and long-term memory.
Five Tips To Enhance Learning From Lectures
Here are some techniques conference presenters can use to augment learning, enhance the three working memory factors and increase retention.
1. Chunk lecture information in ten-minute segments.
Our attention span is ten minutes. Hook each segment with a story, visuals and why the information is important to know.
2. Examples and analogies help the learning process.
Giving concrete examples or analogies helps the learner understand critical relationships. Asking learners to examine a case study or explain an analogy enhances learning and retention.
3. Story sharing increases peer learning and retention.
Ask attendees to share stories with each other about personal experiences regarding the subject.
4. Visuals help learners encode information quickly.
Handouts, flip-charts, PPT, Keynote, Prezi are all tools that can help learners understand concepts. Visuals should be simple, striking and grab the attention. Visuals with lots of bulleted text actually deter learning.
5. Plan time for attendee discussion with each other.
The brain needs time to think. It needs to process new information. It needs a break. Lecture for ten- to twenty-minutes and then allow participants to discuss the information with each other. Ask them to discuss how they would apply what they are hearing.
What can conference organizers do to decrease attendee corrupted learning? What are some types of conference education sessions that can replace the traditional lecture?