The End Of Conference Education As We Know It

John Dewey Quote on Teaching and Learning

“In the spirit of honoring tradition, conferences hang on to past practices imperiling their futures,” paraphrase, Clayton Christensen, Harvard University.

Conference speakers present today, exactly the same way they did one-hundred years ago. Little has changed. Yet, we’ve learned so much more about how people learn and retain information.

Unfortunately, the conference presentations have not yet caught up with 21st Century education research, insight, wisdom and practice.

Five Drivers Of Today’s Education That Impact Conferences

According to the 2012 NMC Horizon Report, there are a multitude of education drivers that will impact today’s education. They also affect adult education in conferences and meetings. Here are five drivers to watch.

1. Overabundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet.

Every organization must consider the unique value that each of its education session adds, especially in a world where information is everywhere. If it doesn’t add any value, the customer won’t pursue it.

Information alone is not enough. Lectures and panels are nothing more than information transfer from speakers’ mouths to listeners’ written notes. Attendees can actually get the same or even a better experience receiving that information online via articles and webinars.

In this information-driven and knowledge-based world, sense-making of the information and discussing how to apply it are two ways to differentiate conference education and increase its value. Helping attendees solve their immediate problems and facilitating strategies for implementation back at work is at the forefront of attendees’ minds.

2. The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing.

In the business world, innovation is valued at the highest levels. Helping others to embrace innovation and creativity as part of their work routines is critical to their success. Innovation is not something that can be done by rote computer programming. It takes critical thinking skills and intention. Teaching attendees how to be more innovative is critical.

The way we design conference education learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity. Our own conference experiences must become more unique showcasing innovative methods. We must move away from the traditional lecture and panel models as the only way to design learning experiences.

3. Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional conference education.

Organizations are looking for ways to control costs while still providing a high quality education experience. Just scheduling speakers from a call for proposal is not enough. Conference organizers are challenged with the need to support a steady and growing number of customers with fewer resources than in the past. Customers are no longer willing just to pay for information from a lecture as they want a unique learning experience.

Some organizers are finding new ways to support loyal customers with free open content and a blended hybrid conference experience (face-to-face and digital). Some are focusing on peer learning and story-sharing. Other models may emerge that blend new and traditional ways.

4. A key challenge is the fundamental structure and purpose of the conference.

As long as maintaining the status-quo so that the organization receives its annual revenues remains the focus of conference efforts, there will be resistance to any changes in practice. Conference attendees have increasing opportunities to take the education into their own hands. Options like social learning, informal learning and online education are attracting customers from the traditional conference setting. If the conference establishment is to remain relevant, it must adapt.

5. The digital divide is increasing and thus impacting job status.

The digital divide, once seen as a factor of income and demographics, is now a factor of education. Those who have the opportunity to learn technology skills are in a better position to obtain and use technology, than those who avoid it. Technology continues to profoundly impact the way we work, collaborate, communicate and ultimately succeed. Conferences that help their customers learn and find ways to implement technology will be see as those on the cutting edge. This means conference organizers must stay on top of technology trends and how they can be applied to their customers’ industries.

What do you see as the key challenges related to conference education that conference organizers will face in the coming years? What trends do you expect to have an impact on conference’s core missions of education and networking?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. […] To Managing Customer-Centric ProjectsProject Manager w/Revenue ModernizationAdult Education – OnlineThe End Of Conference Education As We Know It @import url( […]

  2. Frank says:

    I Appreciate this post, especially point number 1. Too many conferences are just an information dump. I could see where that would be valuable 20 years ago when the associations were the holders of info.

    I get my information today at my own speed and in the way I like it, online. What I need is new ideas. Insights. What does the info mean for me. How, specifically, do I put the info to work for me.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Yes, too many conferences and workshops are nothing more than an information dump. Until audiences demand a shift, it will continue to occur.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion too.

  3. Frank says:


    And then, after the conference, the organizers always seem to think the conference was amazing. Do you put much wait in the evaluations turned in? My instincts tell me that many organizations hear what they want to hear and disregard any negative feedback. Or, if the organizers are known to be touchy and sensitive to criticism, people just don’t offer the brutal truth.

    Your thoughts?


    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I place a tremendous amount of weight into attendee evaluations. I’ve seen associations change entire conference experiences based on that feedback. I always complete them when I attend an event and strongly recommend that more people do it. Savvy organizations actually evaluate each individual session in addition to an overall conference evaluation.

      Thanks for reading and commenting as always.

Leave a comment

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