Dangerous Assumptions About Your Conference Education Part I


It’s a very dangerous assumption.

We assume that if our speakers are talking, our attendees must be learning. We equate telling from the stage with audience education.

Telling does not equal learning. We’ve placed a value on experts talking instead of a value on attendees’ learning. It’s backwards thinking and it’s one of our conference’s most dangerous assumptions.

Mimicking The Wrong Model

Most of our conference education mimics our traditional higher education model. Attendees listen to experts share their knowledge through lectures.

The majority of higher education institutions were developed as research institutions in the early and mid 19th century. The goal was to address issues of specialized knowledge for an industrial society says scholar, author, futurist and professor Cathy Davidson.

Universities treated students as if they were on a factory assembly line. Pour information into their heads through the spoken word and learning is the byproduct. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Those that don’t pass university courses are weeded out and considered not good enough to enter their profession. It’s an elitist system.

The irony is that the research university serves only 0.3% of the U.S. student population says Davidson. Yet we copy this model for our conference schedules. That distorts the mission of our conference.

We have embraced a dangerous assumption that this model works for conferences to deliver attitude, behavior and skill change. This is where the rubber truly meets the road and is the differentiator that conference education outcomes must achieve.

Two Additional Faulty Conference Education Assumptions

Here are a couple more faulty assumptions that we need to address. Some of them came from my discussions with Dr. Will Thalheimer who delivered a similar presentation at PCMA Education Conference 2015.

Assumption 1: Certification For Everyone

Much of our conference education programming is built upon proliferating a similar elitist system—industry designations and certification. By default, we deny industry professionals access to certified-approved courses unless they are willing to pay. We then encourage the collection of continuing education units to meet standards, all for a fee of course. Next, we require payment for the attendees to take a stringent knowledge-based test, regardless if they pass it or not. Finally, we make them pay a fee every two to five years to keep that certification. We’ve created elitist customers, an exclusive clique instead of trying to help the entire industry progress.

Because of a changing nature of specialized knowledge and because of a changing access to information, many wonder about the real value of elite credentialing says Davidson. And many of your attendees wonder about the value of outdated 20th century credentialing for a 21st century world.

Truth: We serve our conference customers best by serving their industry or profession first, not just those who can afford it. When we focus on helping the industry move forward, and not the private club, everyone gets a bigger piece of the pie.

Update 7/27/15: Don’t miss this insightful extended conversation of Assumption 1 by Sue Pelletier at MeetingsNet: What’s The True Value Of Certification.

Assumption 2: Speakers And Experts Transfer Their Knowledge Though Lectures

Our speakers are infected by learning myths says Thalheimer.

The majority of our professional and industry speakers have a cognitive learning virus. The most common belief is that talking to an audience automatically leads to learning. Very few speakers understand how to bridge the gap between learning research and their speech. So we continue with this virus-infected informational delivery model.

Truth: Speakers need to design presentations based on how audiences learn not how to best organize their speech. Presenters should shift to being facilitators of learning with a focus on how to help participants retain and reflect on the content as well as redistribute it back on the job.

See the next post for four more dangerous conference education assumptions.

What More Info On Science And Research Of Learning?

Check out these books by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, professional educators and researchers.

What other conference education assumptions do we have? How do we help audiences and speakers confront their biases and dangerous assumptions?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *