Companies spent more than U.S. $125.88 billion in 2009 for training, including conference education. (ASTD 2010 State Of Industry Report)
And less than 10% of what employees are taught sticks. (Influencer: The Power To Change Anything, VitalSmarts)
That’s $113.29 billion dollars wasted, flushed down the toilet.
What Really Matters
The top two reasons people attend conferences are education and networking. They want to improve their professional lives and meet other likeminded individuals.
Ultimately, education is about changing attitudes, behaviors and skills. And networking is a form of informal education, learning from our peers.
But does conference education automatically lead to learning?
It’s been proven time and time again that lectures, those pesky Max Headroom talking heads, lead to the least amount of learning and retention possible. Yet the majority of most conference education is lecture-based. It’s nothing but hundreds of talking heads.
Lecture-based, didactic instruction is just information transfer. It’s passing information from one individual to another. It’s no different than distributing a report.
Information transfer is not education. Nor is it learning. And less than 10% of that information sticks anyways.
It’s not enough that people attend a conference to learn new information and skills. Just hearing information does not automatically translate into learning.
What really matters is that conference attendees apply the new information and skills on the job. Then performance improves the business benefit.
Conference’s Weakest Link
Conferences can have a lot of hiccups. They can go wrong in lots of way. But the most critical conference failures occur in the planning process.
Meeting professionals rarely focus on what happens in the workplace before and after the participant attends the conference. That lack of focus on designing appropriate education and learning opportunities ultimately leads to failures back in the workplace.
Learning and the transfer of learning on the job are the weakest links in most conferences. They are the most overlooked areas by conference organizers and meeting professionals.
Event professionals often leave the education and learning design up to another department–the education department. Or they depend upon the conference committee to select speakers and design education sessions.
Rarely does the education department or conference committee have formal training in how adults learn. Rarely have those people spent their college years in the study of pedagogy and andragogy. Rarely do they understand the science of learning so they can apply it to the conference agenda.
So conference learning is set up for failure from the beginning. It is the weakest link in conference planning.
The Conference Education Finish Line
The finish line for conference education is not when each session is ends. Or when the conference concludes.
It occurs much later. On the job, after the attendee applies what they’ve learned. If they apply it. If they learned anything.
The real question conference organizers should ask participants is “What will you do when you return to the office?”
The employer cares about new on-the-job attitudes, behaviors and skills. And ultimately results!
If nothing changes after attending the conference, it’s just a waste of money.
Why do conference organizers rarely focus on designing good adult learning opportunities? What do you expect from your conference education experience that will encourage you to return the next year?