New Research Illustrates Need For More Conference Peer Conversations


23 employers, including the Smithsonian Institution, Microsoft and Marriott International, stated that engaging others in face-to-face interactions in order to find information and solve problems is a competency that they need most in their employees.

Unfortunately, they rarely find this skill demonstrated by today’s college-educated employees.

Employers Place High Need On Information Problem Solving

Project Information Literacy’s (PIL) is a national research study about young adults and their research skills in the digital age.

The research conducted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard as part of PIL and sponsored by Institute for Museum and Library Studies discovered employers’ expectations about their employee’s problem solving, information finding and research skills in the workplace. Researchers found a pattern about how young adults find and use information in the workplace.

Today’s employers place a high premium on employees that have great online searching skills that go beyond a simple Google search. They also expect employees to have experience and skills in engaging others in face-to-face interactions to problem solve, work together in teams and interpret data. They want their employees to be able to provide the “best solution” and not just the first one they find online. In brief, employers expect these young adults to carry out comprehensive research using both online sources and in-depth discussions with colleagues.

While employers were impressed with young adults’ computer savvy and online skills, they quickly discovered that they lacked research readiness for the workplace. These young adults lack traditional research techniques such as contacting their networks for solutions, talking to other employees and interpreting results with team members.

Top Four Skills Employers Seek

Here are the top four skills today’s employers seek in employees as rated by the 23 employers in this study.

  1. Ability to work within a team structure.
  2. Ability to verbally communicate with people inside and outside of the organization.
  3. Ability to make decisions and problem solve.
  4. Ability to obtain and process information.

The majority of the employers also placed a higher premium on employees who exhibited openness to learning and natural curiosity.

How Your Conference Can Leverage Peer Discussions

This mismatch of young adults’ problem solving through accessing instant online information and what their employers expect illustrates an area where conference organizers can help. Conference organizers can secure presenters who will dedicate 30%-50% of their presentation to two-way communication between participants. In other words, conferences can practice peer to peer discussions thus helping adults improve their research and problem-solving skills through face-to-face interactions.

Too often, conference education is nothing more than speaker monologues and panel dialogues (between panelists.) Conferences should provide more opportunities for participants to discuss, reflect together and converse with one another about the information being shared. Engaging in collaborative, face-to-face problem solving is a skill that today’s employers value and need. The more your conference can leverage peerology, the more your attendees practice problem solving skills that they can apply in their offices.

So what’s the purpose of peer discussion? Here are just a few reasons your conference should leverage one-on-one peer discussions.

  1. To make sense of the content and what it means to each person.
  2. To clarify understanding.
  3. To learn from each other.
  4. To agree to disagree at times.
  5. To problem solve together.
  6. To evaluate how to apply the information.
  7. To retain valuable information.

What are some of the challenges with balancing an online digital-driven workplace and a person-to-person workplace? How can conferences help adults identify and prioritize whether a problem should be solved with online search only, face-to-face discussions or a mix of both?

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