Five Super Effervescent Sparkling Fresh Conference Education Ideas

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As a conference organizer, do you replicate last year’s conference schedule and experience and just change the filling?

Or do you mix it up? Constantly looking for new ways to freshen up the attendee’s conference experience.

The best conference organizers proactively seek fresh, new ideas to implement at their next annual meeting. They work hard at coming up with the next big idea. They are willing to make at least 25% of their annual meeting a new experience for everyone.

Changing The Conference Learning Experience

Providing high-quality conference learning experiences is a conference game changer.

Unfortunately, our existing model for most conference education is not adequate for today. It’s outdated, passive and ineffective.We have to transition to conference education that is experiential, participatory and socially constructed.

If conference organizers continue to assume that learning is confined to lectures, then they will start losing market share. The current traditional experience leads to high-inferior faux-learning experiences at best.

Five Fresh Innovative Ideas

Traditional conference education sessions are nothing more than tools to manage time, schedules, topics and attendees. They have become the building blocks of conference discipline.

The traditional, contained lecture can no longer be the central unit of the experience. Why? Because it doesn’t work.

In today’s post-conference-lecture era, inquiry, participation, social connections, reflection and learning design are the keys to attendee learning.

Here are five innovative features that leverage high-quality learning that today’s conference game changers need.

1. Pro-Am

This model embodies a professional-amateur (pro-am) approach to learning. It’s also known as cognitive apprenticeship. Participants interact with others in pairs, triads or small groups who are more experienced and expert. This is all about peer sharing and learning. Roundtable discussions and hallway expertise-sharing sessions can provide pro-am opportunities.

2. Hard-Fun

We need more learning experiences that are intellectually and instructionally challenging as well as fun. Then they become hard-fun. Puzzlement, awe, surprise and other forms of emotional engagement increases the participant’s effort and attention. Simulations, immersive environments and games are other types of hard-fun. Who said learning has to be hard and boring?

3. Real-World

Bottom-line, conference attendees are motivated by engaging in real-world problems that are from their own corner of the universe. The more the conference content focuses on current real-world problems the more meaningful and successful they are.

4. Feed-Forward

All conference learning opportunities should provide some type of feedback to each attendee. Without feedback learners have no idea if their thoughts are on target or not. They need to discuss it with others to get feedback. Similarly, the more that education can engage them into wanting to know more as well as how to know more, the better. Conference organizers need online and offline Amazon-like recommendation systems that suggest the next feed-forward course or experience.

5. Structured Autonomy

Many conference attendees will drive their own learning as long as they have structure and support. One of the best game changers is to provide suggested pathways, guides and road maps to help attendees solve their current problems. Conference websites and mobile apps that let attendees search education sessions according to their problems are a must for success today.

Hat Tips to Educase’s Game Changers: Education and Information Technologies. Adapted from a 2012 VCC post.

What are some practical ways for conferences to provide more pro-am learning experiences? What must conference games have to be instructionally and intellectually sound that lead to learning versus games for just fun?

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