Helping Conference Participants Move From Superficial Knowing To Understanding

2009-07-15T11-30-21 -- DSC_0471

Have you ever walked out of a conference education session and said, “Now I understand,” and then can’t remember the main point?

Sure you have.

You’ve been a victim of superficial knowledge. You have a false sense of security that you “got it.” Then when you try to talk about it, you can’t remember the main point. It seems lost.


Imagine the following scenario.

You and a friend decide to watch a movie together. You’ve already seen the movie and agree to watch it again.

As the plot unfolds, each twist and turn seems familiar, even predictable. Your friend turns to you and asks, “How does it end?”

You can’t remember. You try to recall the ending but can’t.

Did you forgetaboutit? Or is there another explanation for your memory loss? And your memory loss has nothing to do with your age either!

Perhaps, you have superficial knowledge of the movie.

The Knowing Standard

In the above movie analogy, you didn’t really know, understand or get the movie. While it seems familiar and predictable, you can’t really talk about it. You have superficial, shallow knowledge.

The standard for knowing something is the ability to explain it to another person. The standard is not understanding something when it is explained to you by others.

Listening to information from others does not automatically translate into knowledge, understanding or learning. In order to understand and learn it, you must think about it. And you cannot think and listen at the same time.

You must process that information and be able to explain it to others for you to really know it. That’s the standard.

The Wrong Questions To Ask To Verify Knowledge

Often presenters will ask, “Does everyone understand this now?”

Or they will ask, “Who has a question?”

When the answer is given, others in the room may nod their head and respond with, “Yeah, that’s right. I knew that.” However, that’s still a false sense of knowing. They recognize the answer. That doesn’t mean they know the answer.

To get an accurate assessment, everyone needs to be given a chance to see if they can recall it. If they can articulate it.

Ways To Create Real Understanding

One of the best and easiest ways to ensure that participants have a real understanding is to have them work in pairs. They take turns explaining the main point to each other. It’s even better if the presenter gives some criteria to judge each other’s answers. If not, it can be the blind leading the blind.

Another good question for pairs to discuss is, “What is really important here? What must I know about this material that was presented?”

Then the participants have to focus on the main point and how it’s important to them.

Remember, the standard of knowing is not “understanding something when it’s explained to you.” The standard for knowledge is being able to explain it to someone else.

What are some other ways we can allow participants to create deeper knowledge during conference education? Why does shallow or superficial knowledge feel so comforting?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. justin locke says:

    you remind me of the pimsleur language system, which teaches in lesson one how to order a beer, then 5 min later asks, “how do you say, “i want a beer” ? and then there is a silence on the CD. that mental process of searching for the information (as opposed to many older methods that assumed that endless repetition would achieve the desired end) forces the thought to establish itself, as you say, from superficial to understanding and owning the knowledge. takes work! –jl

  2. […] Helping Conference Participants Move From Superficial Knowing To Understanding Many of us are victims of superficial knowledge. Source: […]

  3. Jeff, let’s not forget: If information is shared that is common knowledge then it will be, inherently, lost. I think what you’re describing here is walking out of a speech or session with a bit more *clarity* on something that everyone already knows.

    My larger point is that most speakers, white papers, etc. share what is already known. And that is an insurance policy for attendees to become clear (maybe) but uninspired — if not uneducated. I’m sure you understand this, of course 🙂 but I want to say it. Because this is the Internet, after all.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *