March 29, 2013 by Jeff Hurt
Let’s get one thing straight: Content is not education!
If content was education, then all of us would be very knowledgeable because we have information at our fingertips through the internet.
But content is not education. Just as information and data is not education.
People attend conferences for two primary reasons:
I’ve heard many people say that people attend conferences for content and connections. That’s only partially true. People do not attend conferences for information any more. They attend for an education experience. They want real learning.
So exactly what is content?
According to dictionary.com,
Content is the subjects or topics covered in a book; the chapters or other formal divisions of a book or document; something that is expressed through some medium.
In short, content is substantive information.
Offering content implies that we can hand knowledge to our attendees. The only thing the attendees have to do is receive it. Well, that is incorrect! That is not how learning occurs.
Conferences that just offer content do not offer enough. Attendees will be bored if all you offer is content expressed through a lecture. Remember, the lecture is the equivalent of distributing a report.
Of course content is part of education but it is not the main part. It is the experience and learning part of education that is critical. It is our experience with that content that is more meaningful to us.
Yes, content is important but it is only half of the equation.
Content + the education experience = education/learning that our attendees want!
Here are two different metaphors for learning. One is how most people think learning occurs and it is the wrong metaphor.
Conference organizers that talk about providing the right content think that learning is a conduit. Experts have an idea and they share it with the audience. Then the audience has it. Implicit in this process is that learning is passive.
Learning is not passive. Learning is not a conduit.
We need to think of our education and learning as a construction site. The content that is provided through some medium is tested, worked with, questioned, practiced and applied. It is only when an attendee works with the content that the content is transformed into real learning.
Attendees have to construct their own meaning of the content and how it can be applied before it is real learning. Learning is active!
You cannot sit passively and absorb information by just listening to a presenter. Our attendees are not sponges that can take in information and thus they have learned it. That is not education. Nor is it learning.
Your conference attendees want to be able to transform the information provided by the presenter into their own understanding. They want to have time to be able to make meaning of the content and discuss it with others.
Remember, learning is an active, biological, chemical and electrical process that takes place in the brain. It is only when the attendee thinks about the information that learning starts. Then the attendee must put the content within context of their experiences and knowledge. This process takes time and effort. And it cannot occur if the attendee is giving their attention to listening to an expert lecture. They can either give their attention to thinking about the content or listening to the speaker. It’s one or the other.
So content is not education. And providing content at a conference is not enough!
When attendees say they want education from a conference, they want learning. And this requires a different type of education experience than just providing content, information, data and statistics. They want learning through a unique education experience!
Why do so many conference organizers think that just providing information at their event is enough? How can conference organizers provide more education that is like a construction site at their events?
Filed Under: Conference Education
Great post Jeff!
I would add one thing to this statement:
“So content is not education. And providing content at a conference is not enough!”
The conference lecture (speaker) format may deliver content but does not provide education.
Perhaps many conference organizations rely on how we were “taught” (teachers lecturing) and think that works?
Many years ago, I participated in an NYU Speech Writers Workshop led by Jim Fox. I learned a lot! Why? Because Jim would spend 15-30 minutes providing specific concepts and then, ask us to write a component of the speech. So, we had a chance to put what he taught to practice. Jim always asked a couple of attendees to read what they wrote and then he would comment/correct it. I always volunteered to read what I wrote because I realized getting that immediate feedback would benefit me more than hearing him comment on someone else’s writing!
His style fits your goals of making learning a construction site for education.
As always, thanks for your great thinking/writing!
Yeah for this article. If content the goal a live conference is NOT the best delivery method. We could save the hotels, meals, travel costs, time away, etc… and just read White Papers. Live events have to have more than content!!!
But you are right, many organizers say “Content is King”. I heard one organizer tell an audience, “Our speakers are not experienced at speaking or ‘motivational” because our event is about content”. It was kinda dull. Some smart folks on stage, but now “experience” at the end of the day. Humans are experiential beings… and when we get that high level of experience we have a “WOW” moment. All organizers should want that for their event.
My mantra is “Just because someone is smart or has done something cool — it does not mean they belong on stage”. Those who present must contribute to the overall experience. Seeking content AND speaking style / experience in moving an audience is not too much to ask from a presenter. 😉
Great article and comments. Loved Tom’s insight that just because someone has done something cool does not mean they belong on the stage. Couple that with known parameters of neuroscience and I think planners retreat into the comfort of the known. Leadership has to insist that the silos of programming, creative, analytics and logistics MUST work an event together to truly make the experience happen. It can be done from the bottom up, but it is so much more difficult. WHY is leadership not stepping up? Is it like the myth of greening your meeting, thinking its all about costs?
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