The Mirage Of Conference Information Tsunami

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Your attendees rate the learning impact of “massing” as superior at your event.

Massing in the education world is defined as receiving large blocks of information in condensed amounts of time.

Attendees feel that the more information they can receive, the higher their performance.

Unfortunately, the conference information tsunami is a mirage. It is a short-lived, instant gratification that quickly fades like a gummy bear sugar rush. And back in the office, it leaves the attendee feeling empty, drained and questioning if the conference was actually worth it.

Cramming Not A Successful Conference Strategy

Conference attendees feel that cramming information is a successful strategy to get the most for their money. They remember cramming for an exam and passing a test. So why can’t they cram conference information and take it back to the office?

Cramming for an exam placed an emphasis on minimal memory retrieval. The goal was to pass the test, not apply the information to work.

Spaced Information Waves

Learning for the workplace has a different aim than cramming for an exam. The goal is to build contextual understanding of the information and to apply it to work. Ultimately, the goal is to learn and retain relevant information.

Spacing information into intervals, like waves, and allowing attendees to connect new information to past experiences, increases the memory and learning. Allowing for a wave of information, then a time where the information can be digested, discussed and reflected upon, drives the building of long-term memory.

Our Brain’s Information Surge Protectors

It’s true that we have a lifetime capacity for learning. Unfortunately, on a daily basis that capacity has severe limits. The brain has several built in natural surge protectors that limit learning.

1. Our Frontal Lobes

Our short term memory is located in the frontal lobes of our brain. It can only entertain three to five chunks of information at a time for five to 20 seconds. Try to add more information and we either drop the previous information or miss new incoming information completely. In order for the information to be retained, it has to move from short-term memory to long-term memory and that takes time.

2. Synaptic Connections

The biological process for learning begins within 15 minutes of exposure to new information. During this process, neurons communicate with other neurons connecting new information to past information through a synapse. Within an hour, that mental connection builds and takes up to six hours to completely form. If more information is received before strengthening occurs, it disturbs the process and the memory is lost.

3. Hippocampus

All information must go through the hippocampus to be translated into memory. It learns fast but has a very small memory capacity. It evaluates new information and decides if it’s worth committing to long-term memory. If the hippocampus deems the new information important (novel, relevant, emotionally stimulating) it organizes and indexes it for later storage. At night, while we sleep, the hippocampus then codifies the learning into a long-term memory.

Unfortunately, the hippocampus is extremely fickle. Throw more information at it before it’s processed past information and it is guaranteed to short fuse.

Less Is More

Given what research shows about how our brain learns, it should be apparent that trying to gain more information per minute at a conference actually assures little is learned or retained.

Conference hosts that try to offer more content faster ensure that their attendees will simply forget more and faster. Less is more. Too much, too fast, and it won’t last.

Why do we think listening to more information at a conference leads to improvement in the workplace? Should we just go ahead and give audiences what they want with more content or should we try to help them actually learn it?

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1 comment
  1. William says:

    I should show you a brochure from 2003. It had 65 sessions and over 80 speakers over 2 days; totally crazy.

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