The Next Frontier Of Conference Improvement: Conference Education

Last Frontier Village & Golden Slipper

Traditional conference education models have lost their relevance.

The process of distributing a call for session and speaker submissions, selecting experts that transmit and dispense information, and packaging it as professional development for the masses is overdone. One-size-fits-all education doesn’t work anymore.

We are in the midst of great workplace disruption, brought on by a new generation of workers, an increasing sophisticated public and rapidly changing technology. The disruptors have arrived.

Learning Professionals Needed

Today’s conference organizers need to develop a laser-focus on their key customers with much more specificity than ever in the past.

Aligning customer needs with your education efforts requires the work of a senior-level education-strategy professional. You need a learning professional who understands learning design and the future of work.

It’s going to take ongoing forward thinking and continuous improvement if you want to earn the status of being the learning disruptor in your profession. If and when you achieve this for the most advanced attendee segment possible, then you hold the advantage in your respective industries or fields of endeavor.

What CEOs Want

Progressive organizations will understand the pressing workforce priorities of their customers and develop programming and experiences that meet those needs.

According to the 2012 IBM CEO Study, Leading through Connections, three of the most critical workforce priorities are:

1. Creating Open And Collaborative Cultures

How much of your conference education is dedicated to peer learning, peer sharing, and collaboration instead of an expert dispensing knowledge? Do you create spaces and sessions that embrace and leverage collaborative processes?

2. Developing Agile Analytic Muscles That Respond Immediately With Relevancy

Does your conference education help participants turn mountains of data into actionable insights? Do you help participants reduce complexity and increase efficiency for their employers? Do they know what agile processes are and how to shift to a model of taking successive sprints instead of running a marathon?

3. Amplifying Disruptive Innovation Through Partnerships

How much of your conference programming discusses high-stakes partnerships? How well do you understand the partnerships your customers have or desire? Do you model innovation by having your conference in constant beta-mode?

Adopting Leanership & Learning Design

Adopt learning-design principles that line up with where your customers are going. Focus on helping them accelerate workplace change by learning, unlearning, relearning.

If you want to really push the envelope, build your conference education around the future of business. One progressive and emerging theory is “Leanership.” As futurist and digital anthropologist Stowe Boyd describes it,

Leanership values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing.

At its core, Leanership acknowledges that mere knowledge of a specific topic is not enough. In today’s fast-paced work environment, we need to practice the art of thinking, connecting, reflecting, and sense-making in order to guide our organizations toward their future.

How can your conference adopt the model of Leanership? How important is learning design to your conference education?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2015.

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  1. I love it when words like “disruption” are used around education! The act of learning is by it’s nature disruptive. And conferences, therefore, need to embrace the concept of rambunctious and disruptive sessions if they want to turbocharge learning and change.

  2. SmartCrowdz says:

    You make a good point, Dave, that as society evolves, conferences must evolve to meet the ever growing needs of their participants, as well. Traditional and one-size-fits-all conference models are no longer as useful, but rather an approach that targets participants’ needs is much more meaningful. Aligning participant needs with your conference educational efforts will allow planners to engage their participants to get the most out of the conference. As you mention, “learning professional needs, what CEOs want and adopting leadership and learning design,” will all help planners of conferences maximize the success of their event.

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