Have you ever studied the people who attend conferences?
For the past couple of days, I’ve found myself closely observing the attendees of ASAE’s Annual Meeting and Expo 2012 in Dallas. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
The Variety Of Conference Learners
Most conferences like ASAE12 have an interesting hodgepodge mix of people.
Some hang out in the hallways talking and networking with others.
Some race to get to meeting rooms so they can find a seat. Some meander from session to session trying to find a speaker and topic that resonates with them. Some have an agenda to attend every opportunity and get the most of their registration dollar as possible.
Some set up flash learning sessions and network where they can. Some schedule business meetings.
Some avoid all education and are only there for the parties.
Six Types Of Typical Learners
Regardless, each conference seems to have some similar types of learners.
Here are six types of learners you will encounter at conferences and education programs.
1. The Spoon-Feed Me Learner
These learners want the one-two-three-step-list of what to do to solve their problems. They want it fast and quick. They don’t want the back story, the metaphor or any background information. They are on a schedule and just want an overview of what they need to know. They don’t want to think at all. Just spoon-feed me is their mantra.
2. The Shiny-Object Syndrome Learner
These learners have very short attention spans. They believe in multi-tasking even though they are just switching their focus from one thing to another and back again. They are looking for the next, best thing. Shiny objects distract them. If it’s not new, they don’t want it.
3. The “They Made Me Attend” Learner
These learners are required to attend and are skeptical that any education will meet their needs. They have been sent to the conference to get specific information to help them improve their jobs. They don’t believe that the information being presented is useful. They doubt anything will help them. They are motivated by extrinsic factors such as their boss or keeping their job.
4. The Fearful Learner
These learners are slow to change and adapt. They’ve always done it one way and are doubtful that they need to change. Change elicits fear for them. Everything presented sounds too hard. They need lots of time to practice new ideas and want to know that they will not lose their job by trying something new.
5. The Know-It All Learner
You know these people. They’ve been-there-done-that. They can one-up everyone else in the room. They don’t want to attend beginner sessions. Everything they hear is something they’ve already tried in the past and it didn’t work. They claim to get it quickly and don’t need much assistance.
6. The Open-Minded Curious Learner
These people are life-long learners. They have a natural curiosity of things. They listen carefully to everything said and consider if it applies to them. They share their new learnings with others. They are highly motivated and willing to change.
What are some of the other types of learners you’ve seen at conferences and education programs? How can you help these learners transition into curious learners?
Rob Cottingham says
Heh. I recognize a few of these folks, Jeff, and I appreciate the spirit in which you’re addressing them. I have a few more species to add to the field guide:
The timid adventurer: They’re outside their comfort zone and feel intimidated, but for one reason or another, they’re motivated to learn. They’ll need extra help along the way, and you’ll need to weigh how much time you take from the other participants. But when you break through and a skill or insight clicks into place for them, it can be hugely rewarding for both of you.
The approval seeker: You’re an authority figure, and they’ll be looking to you for validation – frequently. That can eat up a lot of time and attention. But you can also channel their energy productively and play to their strengths, for example by giving them a task during a breakout session such as finding cases or synthesizing a discussion.
The challenge is partly dealing with the disruption and distraction these folks bring to the party. But I’ve found it also lies in not writing them off: in finding a way to address their particular learning needs while being fair to the rest of the group. And, frankly, in not letting yourself give into the temptation of basking in the attention they’ll give you. Your responsibility is to the group, and they’re part – but only part – of it.
Jeff Hurt says
I love what you say, “…not writing [these learner types] off; [but] in finding a way to address their needs while being fair to the rest of the group.” Excellent advice.
Thanks for reading and adding to the field guide!