Overcomplicating Conference Content Confuses Attendees

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Is your conference content like an encyclopedia, a textbook or a report?

Does your conference promote content-centric or learner-centric design?

Unfortunately, most conferences default to content-centric design without even knowing it.

SMEs Do It Difficultly

If your conference prides itself on securing subject matter experts (SMEs) to present information, then consider the following. Your attempt to help attendees learn through SMEs, may actually be a barrier to learning.

SMEs naturally relate to content-centric design. They gravitate to one of three content sequencing models:

  • Simple to complex
  • Chronological
  • Hierarchical

All three seem like logical ways to design and present content. The challenge is that often these sequences are confusing and overwhelming to audiences. They are also frequently boring.

Learners can’t appreciate the clever or efficient organization of unfamiliar and meaningless information. If they don’t know the content, how can they grasp how well it is organized? It doesn’t make any sense to them yet.

Learners can’t be grateful for knowing terms of things that they cannot yet recognize, value or even use. Nor can learners appreciate classification systems for meaningless items.

So content-centric, logical design of conference content frequently falls short of helping audiences learn. It actually becomes a hindrance.

Learners Want It Simplified

Leaner-centric design focuses on helping the learner understand the value of what they are learning. Learners want to know how it will lead to meaningful application.

Learner-centric design focuses on one of three content sequencing models:

  • Known to unknown
  • Misconceptions to latest techniques
  • Goal breakdown (dividing the goal into subtasks necessary for completion)

Learners are interested in how content relates to them, rather than how the content is logically structured. They are interested in effort-saving insights, paradoxes and surprising facts. They want to know what the information means to them and their work.

Helping SMEs organize content based on one of these three models results in successful audience learning. These three models actually leverage learning.

Learner-Centric Conference Content Tips

Here are some tips to help SMEs and presenters design learner-centric presentations instead of content-centric presentations.

  1. Determine the audiences’ initial proficiency and then build upon it.
  2. Chunk content into meaningful, performance-related segments.
  3. Advance content in steps that challenges the learner and is meaningful to them.
  4. Allow learners to evaluate the content and pace frequently throughout the presentation and adapt as necessary.
  5. Encourage learners to think about how to apply specific chunks of content before proceeding to the next step.

Conferences Should Focus On Learner-Centric Design

Conference organizers and education professionals must begin to work together to make our conference experiences more meaningful. We have to begin to focus on how the content is shared so that our audiences benefit from the experience. We can’t continue to default to the excuse, “That’s the speaker’s role, not mine.”

The traditional call for speaker proposal process leverages content-centric design. Conference organizers must transition to learner-centric design and ask their SMEs and presenters to do the same.

If not, many conference presentations will continue to be ineffective offering highly-organized presentations from the SMEs point of view. Unfortunately, this results in little learning and few takeaways. And it means that the registrant may not pay to return next year.

Does the focus on learner-centric design belong with conference organizers or education professionals? How can conference organizers leverage more learner-centric design at their events?

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1 comment
  1. […] organizers and presenters have a hard time deciding how to develop their content. Most default to a content-centric model instead of a learner-centric one. If presenters work for content thoroughness and clarity, it is a very different presentation than […]

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