Exposing Your Mental Model For Conference Education

Mock Shock

Most conference organizers are not even aware of the mental models that drive their decisions—especially when it comes to conference education.

Rarely do we openly examine or actively process our mental models. We just act.

So those beliefs continue to govern our thoughts and decisions, without our awareness or knowledge. As a conference organizer, your primary task should be to develop appropriate and accurate mental models. That means your current thinking may need to change.

Your Conference Education’s Full Monty

How you offer conference education exposes your organization’s mental model for learning.

How you pick speakers and topics actually underscores your full beliefs about how adults learn. The room sets you chose underlines what you believe about learning.

Yep, just look at your past conference agenda and you’ll see the whole nine yards, the whole ball of wax, or the whole enchilada, so to speak on your mental model for conference education. You’ve actually showcased what your organization believes is necessary, appropriate or possible for education to occur.

Your last conference agenda exposes your education’s full monty.

Your Education Mental Model

Your conference education mental model might be that attendees are blank slates waiting to absorb new knowledge that experts provide through the spoken word.

You see breakouts and general sessions as gatherings where attendees listen and transcribe. Attendees are to apply, assimilate and analyze those transcriptions on their own time not during the conference.

If the majority of your conference sessions are lectures or panels, you subconsciously believe that your only job is to schedule the appropriate expert to tell the audience what to do. You see your audience as sponges absorbing the experts’ knowledge by listening. If they don’t learn, it’s not your fault. It’s the audience’s fault…at least that’s the quiet message and mental model you have.

A conference organizer who has this mental model will think and behave differently from one who has a mental model that adults are active meaning makers.

Two Learning Mental Models

Imagine the consequences derived from the following two conference education mental models. Oh, and by the way, see which one you identify with as well.

Adults Are Sponges Mental Model

  • The speaker must present accurate material correctly.
  • As a conference organizer, I have to review all their content to make sure it’s accurate.
  • The more content the speaker can deliver, the more the audience can learn.
  • The more speakers I have, the more the audience can absorb and the better conference organizer I am.
  • I know that the audience learned because they gave the speaker/session high scores.
  • I know the audience learned because they can now pass a certification exam.

Adults Are Meaning Makers Mental Model

  • The speaker must act as a learning facilitator, not just a teller of information.
  • As a conference organizer I need to require speakers to focus on learning design: what the audience will do during the presentation besides sit and listen.
  • The speaker should cut their content in half and allow time for the audience to make sense of it.
  • The more conference education that provides reflection, active participation and small group discussion, the more the audience participates in their own learning.
  • I know the audience learns because they can put it into their own words.
  • The ultimately goal of conference education is on the job work improvement and increased performance.

Hat tips authors Geoffrey Caine, Renate Nummela Caine, Sam Crowell.

Having read this post, now what observations do you have about your own conference education mental model? How are your conference planning actions congruent with or opposite of your actual mental model for learning?

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