It sounds so cliché: Conference bulk learning is an oxymoron.
Yet, too many of us have bought into the idea that the more information we have, the more information that we consume, the more information that we try to stuff in our heads, the better we are.
Ultimately, information has become a problem, not a solution. The more information that we try to consume at a conference, the less we actually retain and the more we hinder our learning. In short, bulk learning does not work.
The DIKUW Chain
Are you old enough to remember the data revolution that lead to the information era?
Just having data (D) is not enough. We have to translate that data into useable information (I). Then that information must be translated into know how or knowledge (K). From there we’ve got to translate that knowledge into understanding (U), knowledge that makes relevant sense to us. It is only as understanding that we can apply it, use it and hopefully through practice turn it into wisdom (W).
Here’s the gold in this DIKUW treasure. Learning only occurs at the understanding level. You’ve got to move your attendees past data, past information and past knowledge. They want relevant, practical, takeaways that they can apply immediately when they return to the office. They don’t just want data, information or even knowledge. They want to make sense of the what, why and how so they can apply it.
At conferences, the more data and information we shove at attendees, the less time they have to transfer it into real meaningful understanding. We’ve got to slow the process down!
Why We Believe In Bulk Learning (When It Doesn’t Work)
Our mental model of learning is grounded by our experience. We believe that if someone gives us information, then we have it and we’ve learned it.
Why do we believe that?
Most of us spent 12-16 years in the American education system. The entire American school system from grade to graduate school is also built on this false mental model of learning, from the teacher’s mouth to the student’s ear to the listener’s brain. So it is very hard to unlearn our own experiences, especially 12-16 years of it living it.
Unfortunately, our entire conference education program is built upon this model as well.
Think back to high school or college. Just because we listened to the professor, did not mean we could automatically pass the test. We still had to study for tests to get a passing grade. Why? Because we did not learn the information from a lecture. We had to work to learn!
The Conference Information Cram
At conferences, we try to cram as many education sessions into our schedules as possible. We think that if we listen to information, our brains have automatically recorded it. So we go after bulk learning.
But our brains do not automatically record everything we hear and see. If it did, we would be a mess!
Here’s the rub: Just because someone gave us or told us information, does not mean that we learned it, retained it and now have it within our brains to use. Learning requires work on our part!
Changing Our Mental Models About Learning
We now have access to tons of information via the internet. We have information in bulk!
Just because we read or surfed web pages does not mean we retained or learned that information. It’s still just information and it did not necessarily translate into knowledge, understanding, wisdom or learning.
At a conference, the more we try to receive information, the less time we provide to process the information and turn it into real understanding and application. We need to balance the two.
We’ve got to change our mental model of learning! Learning does not automatically happen from information transfer (from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ear) without giving time and attention to thinking. Conferences are not conduits for learning.
Conferences must become construction sites where attendees can construct their own meanings of the information. They have to be given time to process the information. They must be given time to think, reflect on, digest, discuss, deconstruct and focus their attention on the key points.
In short, we’ve must slow down the amount of information being shoved at attendees and give them time to work at their own learning. We have to help them construct their truths of the content.
HTs to my colleague Sean D’Souza of PsychoTactics who wrote Why Daily Learning Beats Gobble-Gobble Learning with three reasons why bulk learning does not work.
What are some practical ways to help conference attendees slow down the information consumption and practice construction of their own meanings? How can we help attendees shift their mental learning model?