Your Conference Is Offering Learning Scrap That Is Not Even Worth Recycling

zeglis: scrap metal mountain

Your conference and association value proposition is under attack!

Education and networking are two benefits of conference attendance and association membership. Yet, education is being disrupted in major ways.

When employees spend too much time in education offerings that do not translate into increased performance and productivity, it is learning scrap. It’s wasted information, knowledge and education that is not applied back on the job. And it’s not even worth recycling and sharing with others!

A Learning Field Crisis

Elliott Masie, a progressive leader in organizational and workforce learning, recently addressed a crisis in the learning field in his Learning TRENDS newsletter.

Many major organizations are reporting that as much as 70 percent of learning time and expenditures are being spent on programs mandated by compliance and regulatory requirements,” he wrote — a situation he called “out of control.”

Unfortunately, many of these programs “do not really move the performance needle,” he said, “nor do they account for what employees already know.”

Alarming Learning Budget Data

Several data points from the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) 2013 State of the Industry report puts Masie’s comments into context:

  • The average direct expense per employee per year for professional development is $1,195 (down from $1,600 in 2005).
  • 61% of learning expenses are spent internally.
  • 11% of learning spend is on tuition reimbursement.

From my back of the envelope calculations, that leaves

  • 28% (or about $335 per employee) for conferences/external investment.

Ouch! That’s not much for conference registration, especially if your conference is just providing a pile of learning scrap!

CEU And Certification Challenges

When you layer those stats with the fact that CEUs are rapidly being commoditized, it’s pretty much a race to the bottom.

Just Google discount CEUs and add your profession. You’ll probably find options as low as $2.50 per clock hour, if not for free, even for your dentist.

The challenge with many certifications is that passing a test of memorization questions is no longer seen by employers as leading to better on-the-job performance. They know that passing a test or attending a workshop only leads to quasi-certification.

Improving Education ROI

Both association executives and conference organizers have to prove a greater return on an attendee’s investment in their education offerings .

In many corporations, learning is a business function. It is a means to an end — improved performance— and not the end itself.

The more associations and conferences shift their focus of learning opportunities to performance improvement and direct on-the-job application, the more they will be valued.

Unfortunately, most association and conference education programming is based on delivery of just-in-case information and not just-in-need active learning.

Learning Scrap

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning authors coined the term learning scrap to describe the wasted time, effort, and opportunity represented by education programming that was delivered to an audience but never used on the job.

The analogy refers to the cost of manufacturing scrap —the materials, labor, capital, and opportunity costs wasted in producing products that fail to meet customer’s expectations.

Learning scrap is expensive and adversely impacts your competitive advantage. If you’re providing education that is not readily transferred on the job and doesn’t produce business benefit, it’s scrap.

No Quick Fixes

There’s no quick fix to making these trends and disruptive forces–commoditization of CEUs, devaluing of certification, decreased budgets for conference and education, learning scrap– part of your long-term strategy.

If these aren’t being discussed as challenges — and an opportunities — at the highest levels of your organization, start now.

How can you elevate the dialogue in your organization about offering education that provides immediate on the job improved performance for attendees? How can we change the conversation from education sessions that provide information to learning opportunities that transform professions?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2014.

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