October 18, 2012 by Jeff Hurt
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Blah, blah, blah!”
The words fall from the speaker’s mouth to listener’s ears.
The more the speaker shares, the more the listeners quickly forget.
Here’s a truth: Content covered by the speaker does not automatically translate into content learned by the audience.
For the past 50 years, the vast majority of our conference education has remained the same.
A didactic approach, the lecture, has monopolized our conferences.
Our goal as conference organizers has been to provide as much information as possible, as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible, through traditional speakers and panels. We have focused on pushing information into attendees’ brains. We mistakenly believed that we were able to control our attendee’s learning by dispensing information.
We thought that providing content and information via talking heads was the best educational approach. Yet, we now know that those thoughts are misguided.
Today we have a greater depth of understanding of how adults learn. Research has proven that sitting in a chair listening to a presenter is not the best way to learn. Actually, it is directly opposed to how our brains are naturally inclined to receive, consider and remember information. It goes against how we actually learn.
The conference lecture and the traditional panel are actually barriers to learning. They are great for transferring information but if the goal is attendee learning, then we have failed.
It’s time for conference organizers to begin having discussions about adult learning. Ultimately, our discussions about attendee learning have been severely lacking.
Too often our discussions have been on traditional room sets, spaces and AV. But even the best and grandest meeting space does not transform speaker practice and attendee learning in any measurable way!
Forward-thinking conference organizers are suggesting that the emphasis on the conference space and meeting details is over. Instead, it’s time for conference transformation, to rethink conference education through the lens of andragogy (how adults learn). We need to be more intentional about spaces for purposeful learning. These discussions are critical for the sustainability of the conference.
We need to have more reflection and discussion around adult learning. We need to realize that form follows function. Learning and presenting should shape the space, not the other way around. Our conference logistics should be about people and learning first, then places and spaces.
We need a new set of adult learning-space performance measures.
We need planning and design principles to assist conference organizers to design new learning environments for new or best adult learning strategies. We need adult learning-space performance measures to help presenters focus on attendee learning.
The space and the room set do not, in themselves, change anything. We need to be focused on attendee learning and presenting first, then how the space should be set to foster that learning.
In a world where active, collaborative and participatory learning are critical, our spaces need to reflect these learning approaches. Our flexible spaces need to focus on enabling people to make big ideas, instead of focusing on big ideas for people.
Spaces should add value to learning. They should augment the learning process. Conference organizers need to see themselves as influencers of attendee learning, not just schedulers of speakers.
It’s time to have those discussions about one of our primary conference goals: attendee learning.
What are some of the principles that should be included in our adult learning-space performances? How can conference organizers shift from a focus on logistics to one of a learning strategies?
Filed Under: Conference Education
Your posts are so thought-provoking…thank you!
One of the most interesting outcomes of the suggestions in this post is the shift from “speakers” to “facilitators” that is needed to accomplish the real adult learning your post describes. While some “speaking” may be needed, much more skill in facilitating participants’ active learning will be required.
Many speakers fancy themselves facilitators, giving little credence to the actual skill and experience required to tee-up active learning.
Conference planners who decide to go this route will need new selection criteria for the learning moderators, too. And that criteria will not be satisfied by a short ‘talking head’ blurb. Interesting food for thought.
[…] Putting People And Learning Before Places And Spaces From velvetchainsaw.com – Today, 6:24 AM For the past 50 years, the vast majority of our conference education has remained the same using the traditional lecture. That needs to change. […]
I’m trying to convince the planners of our annual regional conference (by ASTD-Twin Cities Chapter in Minnesota) to provide some develpment resources for our presenters during the weeks leading up to the conference. I envision it as a way to add value and prestige to presenting for us, since helping them enhance their effectiveness in a conference setting with the latest trends should make them more desirable to other conference organizers. Of course, we’re hoping the payoff for us will be more learning for participants.
[…] Putting People And Learning Before Places And Spaces From velvetchainsaw.com – Today, 6:19 PM For the past 50 years, the vast majority of our conference education has remained the same using the traditional lecture. That needs to change. Via Maastricht Convention Bureau […]
I’m sure that venues which recognise the needs of learners will be able to exploit this in attracting business. Jeff, do you have any examples of venues which do this well and the sort of modifications or features they have included to address adult learning needs? Many thanks. Ian Stuart, Sydney, Australia.
The Catylst Ranch in Chicago is one venue that I know that has done an excellent job of putting learning first and foremost. All of their spaces are designed to leverage learning and encourage the brain to get involved. Take a look at theirnwebsite and you’ll see what I mean.
[…] For the past 50 years, the vast majority of our conference education has remained the same using the traditional lecture. That needs to change. […]
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