Dear Association Executive, That Is Not Education!

I am Here for the Learning Revolution

Dear Association Executive:

Education is in your mission statement, right? If not, it’s probably in your strategic plan. Isn’t it?

(If not, it should be!)

How Much?

So let me ask you an important question:

If education is in your mission or strategic plan, how much of your budget is dedicated to educating your members?

Come on, now. How much of your budget is dedicated to education?

Stop. Right. There. Don’t spout off budget numbers to me that say your education budget dollars are for events. Conferences and events are NOT education.

And don’t give me your budget numbers for research or government affairs. They are NOT education.

No! Knowledge management and information officers are not part of your education budget either.

I want to know what percentage of your budget is dedicated to educating your members. 10%? 20%? 30%? 40%? More?

If it’s in the top 5 goals, is at least 20% of your budget dedicated to education?

If education is in your mission or goals, is your education budget in line with your mission? Are your education staff and programs aligned with your mission or strategic plan?

Do you have any professional educators on staff?

If education is one of your primary goals of your association, how much of your staff time is dedicated to providing education initiatives?

Whoa! Stop. Right. There. Again!

I don’t mean sharing information. That’s not education! That’s just passing along reports and stats. Information is not education. If so, we’d all be very educated because of today’s information streams on the Internet.

Information Is Not Education

Information does not equal education.

What about conferences that provide presenter monologues and panel dialogues? Guess what! That’s not education either. That’s still just information transfer. (Yes, all of you CEOs that think that a session with a presenter is education are WRONG!)

As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Still confused. Here are the definitions of information, education and learning to help you understand the differences.

Most of what you call education is actually information transfer. Passing on concepts, data, facts and statistics.

You want your members to do something with that information. Right? Or do you care if they just line their bird cages with it?

I suspect that what you really want is learning. You want your members to learn and apply information. Or do you just want them to memorize the current data that you spout the same way they memorized their multiplication tables?

If education and learning are the primary focus of your organization, you need to do things differently!

Start by adopting this association learning manifesto.

The Association Learning Manifesto*

Learning is a life-long adventure. We value learning where our members construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Increased understanding is evidenced by our members who

  • Explain its relevance.
  • Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning.
  • Communicate it effectively to others.
  • Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations.
  • Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning.
  • Ask questions to extend learning.
  • Create meaningful solutions.

What If?

What if your association programs and conferences were not about content? Instead they were about skills and attitudes.

What if your association was evaluated on providing education that met these seven definitions of learning? What if your conference was ranked on how much your attendees learned?

I think it’s time to stop wasting time on association/meetings benchmarks and standards and start spending time on real education and learning!

*Thanks to educator Jeff Utecht for sharing his school’s definition of learning that I used as the Learning Manifesto.

How can we help association staff and leaders transition from information transfer to educating members? What has to happen for board members to understand the true value of education and learning?

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  1. Learning Manifesto – Love it! Where do I sign up?

    One thing hit me as I read your Increased Understanding evidence list — specifically about “Communicate it effectively to others.” I wondered how we might help attendees better leverage this valuable learning to spark more & better conversations with THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS.

    For topics where it’s a fit, it might be helpful to provide a hip-pocket list of questions participants might ask their own customers/prospects to uncover more needs and revenue opportunities.

  2. Ellen says:

    Jeff — Great post; love the call to revolution (happy to serve in the infantry for that)! You’re right that so lots of organizations give lip service to their education departments then fail to provide the $$ to enable them provide real training or education.

    However, I have to disagree with these statements: “Information is not education. If so, we’d all be very educated because of today’s information streams on the Internet.” The first is true. The second is a false conclusion. Otherwise people wouldn’t be learning how to do things from watching You Tube videos; wouldn’t be changing their minds about something they’ve read in a blog; wouldn’t be cooking something they’ve never made before because of a recipe in a cookbook or magazine or online…

    We actually do process information in very individual ways that can result in learning something. My husband and I are reading “Down the Great Unknown” about John Wesley Powell’s trip down the Grand Canyon and we’re learning quite a bit about how his boats were made, why they weren’t constructed for the type of white water they encountered, and much more.

    You’re right in that we can’t just put information out there and expect people to learn from it, but that *does* happen. As educators, we just have to know the best ways to make that information available (mode of delivery) so that our members *can* learn from it.

    Can we put a budget number on everything that provides learning and changes the behavior or solves a problem for our members? Probably not. And I don’t think we should try.

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give our association learning leaders with every dime we can spare so they can fulfill our mission to provide cutting edge education.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I have been thinking a lot lately that so many conference have got off tract because they are nothing but a bunch of presenters talking at audiences. Many conferences were formed as a way for industry professionals to gather together and discuss issues. Conversations are critical. And they are critical to learning. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. For me, information is not education. It can lead to education if, and that’s a big if, people process it and think about it. You said the magic words. “We actually do process information…” I posit that not everyone processes all the information that they read, see or hear. I learn from the Internet from the things I think about. Unless someone picks up the information and thinks about it, no learning occurs. I like how you said it, “As educators, we just have to know the ways to make the information available so that members can learn from it.” I would take it a step further, we have to design learning opportunities for our members to think, discuss and process it.

      In our consulting, we are shocked at how many associations have education in their mission statements and then do not even have staff devoted to education. When we talk with leadership, they assume that producing information and sharing it with others is education. I totally disagree. That’s information transfer at its best. And information transfer is not education nor is it learning. When I see an association that devotes 20%-50% of their budget to marketing and government relations yet their mission is to educate members, there is something inherently out of whack.

      And I do believe we should start putting a budget number on learning and behavior change. We can’t improve what we don’t start measuring. If we start budgeting for it, then hopefully we’ll start measuring it. At least that’s what I think.

  3. William says:

    Jeff, points are very well made. The problem lies in the association and the staff being ‘happy’ with the information given at conferences; that’s their expectations. They don’t realise what they can actually learn. And the flip side is the organiser. How many of them realise their job is to facilitate learning, not to get bums on seats on the platform and in the audience.

    We have a long way to go. And at this stage we really need to get the information out there and demonstrate to assoc heads and their conference staff by getting then along to conferences which are learning focussed.

    My latest blog shares your views on this one!

  4. Dave Will says:


    I’m becoming a bigger fan every day. I really appreciate your time on the phone the other day. Our conversation relates directly to this blog post. And I referenced you several times in my FSAE presentation last week.

    Regarding Info, Ed, Learning… I completely get it and agree, information LEADS to learning, but only after you can personally apply your experiences to the information obtained.

    Question for you: Although “conferences and events” are not learning, isn’t it feasible that since information transfer is part of the “learning value chain” (I’m going to trademark that!) it should fall into the Education or Learning budget? Or perhaps that’s not really the point of the blog.


    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      So true. There is a type of satisfaction that if we receive information, we have arrived. It’s so unfortunate that we don’t encourage people to go deeper to facilitate learning and the application of that information. Thanks for reading and commenting. Great blog post too: Why We Should Not Listen To Conference Delegates.

      Yes, yes, yes…information can lead to learning. It’s necessary for learning and it’s depends on what you do with that information if you want to learn it.

      Conferences and events can definitely lead to learning. What’s unfortunate is most conference budgets are on the logistics of the event (F&B, meeting space, signage, etc.). Rarely do associations devote budget dollars to helping presenters transition from monologue information dumps to becoming conduits of learning. If associaions spent as much time on designing the learning opportunities as they do the meeting’s details, we’ve have a lot more learning taking place!

      Thanks for reading and commenting too!

  5. provocative! love it.
    I once heard something like… it used to be we had a lot of knowledge now a days we just have google ( anonymous, because I don’t know who said it) but speaks to a similar idea. Just because you can get ease of access to lot of information, and people shovel it at you… it doesn’t mean you absorb it or incorporate it in your understanding of the world.
    So much of our efforts and budget don’t necessary add up to education

  6. […] In a recent blog post over at Midcourse Corrections, Jeff Hurt wrote that “Information isn’t education.” While that may be true in the purest sense, we shouldn’t conclude (as I posted in my comment) that it means people can’t learn from information. […]

  7. Ellen says:

    Jeff — We’re probably closer on this idea than apart 🙂 Just posted at aLearning on the topic to clarify a few thoughts ( We do have to be careful that we start to believe that every white paper or research summary should be a training session. Sometimes information is all that’s needed. Sometimes a workshop designed to help interpret and effectively utilize that information is called for. It’s up to us — the education professionals — to help our CEOs, Executive Directors, education committees, volunteer content leaders, vendor sponsors understand which is necessary and provide guidance for getting to one or the other.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Like what you said that just because people shovel information at you it doesn’t mean you absorb it. It’s the same for presentations, content covered does not equate to content learned!

      Thanks for reading and commenting too.

      I think we are in agreement. Your blog post is great too and I’m glad you wrote it. That’s what is great about social media for sure.

      Information can lead to learning. And no, associations should not stop sharing information. My motivation to write the post was because education is typically the first thing cut in association staffs. I’ve seen four large associations lately that had researchers, marketers, writers, PR and tech professionals but no education department and no education professionals. Ironically, education was in their mission statements but not in their implementation. They called information education.

  8. Ellen says:

    Jeff — Well said. It’s part of our unwritten job responsibilities that we’re not only educating our members, but our fellow association staffers and leaders as well! Certainly part of an organization’s learning value chain, as I explained it in “aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning”: “Value chain” is a concept appropriated from the corporate world, where they’re keenly interested in such things as how the money flows, how customer requests are routed, etc. – processes we should probably attend to as well. In any case, the focus here is on learning, so giving some thought to how learning flows in your association is valuable for this strategy.

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