The research* shows that much of what we do in our conference education is actually counterproductive. (*See partial list of research and books at the end of Dangerous Assumptions Part 1 post.)
We spend too much of our conference time on delivery of information. The web is a better information delivery model than our events.
We should shift our conference education focus to our attendees’ real business results. When we emphasize delivery for application instead of delivery for information the attendee wins. Delivery for application requires enough time and active practice for participants to comprehend the content, connect it to their existing knowledge and then encode it in a way that they can retrieve and use it on the job says the authors of The Field Guide To 6Ds about transforming learning into real business results.
Four More Faulty Conference Education Assumptions
This is part 2 of dangerous assumptions about your conference education.
Assumption 3: Get A Year’s Worth Of Education In Just Three Days
We push content at our audiences as fast as we can. We claim we have something for everyone.
We believe that our audience can learn in bulk in three days at our event.
Our audiences have to give their focused attention to what is being said. This is the first and vital step to in the learning process.
Processing speed and capacity are two more bottlenecks in the learning process. And people need breaks to satisfy both their mental and physiological needs is a fourth bottleneck. Sitting passively for one to eight hours a day listening to experts is the exact opposite of what we should do for real learning to occur.
When too much content is presented, it overwhelms the brain’s capacity to process and make sense of that information. It leads to cognitive overload.
“When the overload gets large enough, the learning systems shuts down altogether,” says researchers Clark, Nguyen and Sweller in their book Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load.
Truth: Less content is more. And that conference education needs to have intentional breaks to allow the brain time to process, reflect and connect the information as well as dedicated time away from the content. You cannot attend to a year’s worth of content in three days. It’s impossible to do.
Assumption 4: Experts Should Talk Out Loud Not Attendees
Did you ever really control your audience? No! You controlled the flow of information and therefore thought you controlled the learning.
So what percentage of your conference experience is dedicated to attendees talking to attendees? What percentage is dedicated to intentional, facilitated peer discussions around specific issues? Most of the time we don’t schedule time for attendees to think, process and reflect about what is being said.
Articulating our decisions out loud helps us learn says author and educator Jan Bozarth. We need more one on one peer discussion and explanations during conferences. We need to help attendees understand the importance of talking out loud to each other for their own learning.
Truth: “Working out loud takes us off autopilot and forces us to confront assumptions, bad habits, and prejudices. Helping others better articulate decisions helps them learn,” says Bozarth. Have speakers dedicate 35%-50% of their presentation time to reflection and one on one discussion of application.
Assumption 5: Attendees Are The Best Judges Of Their Own Learning
As the authors of Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning have pointed out, adults are delusional about when they think they are learning. They believe sitting and listening for long hours each day will automatically lead to learning. Most don’t want to have to work at their learning.
“Just give me the crib notes, cheat sheets, top tips or copies of everyone’s handouts and PPTs and I’ve got it,” is the common statement and unfortunately is an illusion. When we’ve got those things, we think we have learned that information but we haven’t.
Truth: We have to help attendees understand the biology of their brain and authentic learning. Provide learning tips and relevant application of the learning research.
Assumption 6: Conference Effectiveness Is Equal To Customer Satisfaction
We seldom evaluate our conference education. Nor do we actually evaluate the effectiveness of our conference education. Most of the time we ask questions about the attendees’ satisfaction with the speaker. Satisfaction has nothing to do with learning says Dr. Will Thalheimer. And Thalheimer’s research shows speaker evaluations are biased in favor of the speaker.
Truth: We need to use more effective evaluations (not traditional smile sheets) and better gauge the workplace application of our education. We need to shift the focus of our speakers to our attendees’ real business results and not just satisfaction.
What other conference education assumptions do we have? What eventually will happen if we continue to promote our traditional conference education model of lectures and panels over attendee learning?