What does it mean to learn at a conference?
What tools does it take for learning to be successful in that environment?
Most people say that successful learning occurs when a speaker presents to an audience. It requires a subject matter expert (SME) or panel of SMEs, research, content and a lecture. It must have chairs facing the front of the room, a podium, a stage, a screen for the SME’s slides and a LCD projector.
Memes: Commonly Held Beliefs
When most adults identify these as the common learning traits we are looking at a meme.
A meme is an organized way of thinking tied to action based on a powerful belief about how the world works. It is a pattern and standard used by most. This meme spreads from one person to another and is passed down through culture. It is shared by a large number of individuals.
In the case of the conference education meme, it is a set of powerful beliefs that prevent new, scientifically-proven ideas from taking hold. This conference meme actually hinders and prevents most learning from occurring.
Conference Education Memes
Speakers expect to stand at the front of the room and be the center of attention. They dispense their knowledge, information and expertise on the subject. They do all the work presenting their information. They believe that covering the content in the lecture leads to learning. They expect that the more content they cover, the more the audience learns.
Attendees expect to sit passively watching the speaker. They consume the SME’s information by listening to it. They also expect that upon hearing the information they have learned it. They believe that the more content the speaker covers, the more they retain.
Attendees’ supervisors tie their employees’ time sitting in conference chairs listening to speakers as learning. Supervisors tie the registration fee to their employees’ knowledge gained. They believe that after attending the conference their employees behaviors will improve, their skills will grow and ultimately their work productivity increases.
Conference organizers expect attendees to sit in rows of chairs facing the stage. Conference hosts expect registrants to attend the education sessions available during each time slot. They believe offering speaker-led sessions equates to attendee learning.
Venue managers expect conference stakeholders to use their space and set the rooms in one of four common ways (theater, classroom, banquet, reception). They expect that their space is the conduit for learning.
All of these expectations come from a strong education model. It is the conference standard. It is an education meme. All of these expectations need to shift!
Shifting The Conference Education Meme
Few question this education meme. Yet more conference hosts, organizers, speakers, attendees and venue managers need to question this governing model. If conferences are to prove their education and networking ROI, we must demand a shift in this education meme. We must adopt a new education paradigm.
Powerful research proves that the old meme does not serve us.
Shifting this education meme begins with understanding how adults learn naturally. It starts when we understand how our brains operate and learn. Creating brain-friendly learning conferences could be revolutionary, if the old meme was not in the way.
Neuroscientist Joaquin Fuster’s research demonstrates that our brain grows based on learning that has personal relevancy and that leads to action and feedback.
The three critical keys for this new conference education model are:
- Action (attendees actively involved in doing something besides listening, this can be as simple as peer discussion)
- Feedback (attendees receive immediate feedback from peers regarding their thoughts about applying the information not just Q&A from SME)
- Relevancy (the information presented must apply immediately to the attendees’ situation or it is quickly forgotten)
What will it take for conference organizers to adopt the new conference education meme? How can conference organizers help their attendees understand the value of a brain-friendly education meme?