Successful Conference Professionals Understand, Design And Offer Deep Learning Experiences To Attendees


Most conferences offer some type of learning opportunities for their participants.

From informal peer networking to roundtable discussions to formal expert lectures and panel discussions. The education opportunities abound.

Traditionally, the goal of conference education is to deliver as much information as possible as fast as possible to as many people as possible. Today, many meeting professionals focus on distributing content through traditional and unusual formats—TED style, Ignite, deep dives, talk-show, monologue, panels, etc.

Well, we succeeded at delivering information. We’ve excelled at designing shallow, surface learning experiences. However, we’ve failed at fostering deep learning—learning that results in changing mental models, attitudes, behaviors and skills.

Learning Is A Process Not A Product

We failed at creating authentic deep learning opportunities at conferences.

Why? We assumed that listening to experts and panelists produces knowledge acquisition and learning. We’ve treated the learning process as a byproduct of sitting in a conference education session. And if the attendee didn’t get it, it was their fault, not the speaker’s or the conference organizer’s fault.

We’ve designed conference experiences as if our customers were sponges that would soak up everything they hear. That’s not how learning works. Attendees have to focus on information, connect it to their own knowledge and experience, make sense of it and then consider how to apply it. That’s a lot more than just soaking information like a sponge.

Challenging Mental Models

The best conference and education professionals create learning experiences that challenge traditional mental models. They provide opportunities to try on new lenses and new ways of thinking. They embrace deep learning.

Why? They know the way attendees interpret and understand the world directly affects their beliefs and actions. Perception creates bias as much as it creates understanding. It creates fear as much as it creates curiosity.

Their networking and education sessions ask attendees, “Do you want your reality to be narrow or vast?
Will the bliss that ignorance provides be sufficient, or do you need more?” (Hat tips thought leader Alyssa Satara.)

The truth is most people want more…From cradle to the grave, our society emphasizes the importance of education. Learning and discovering is what we do, but still it is increasingly hard to understand what you don’t understand.

So how do you learn to know what you don’t know? Start by asking yourself: What don’t I know? What do you want to learn more about? Says Satara.

This is where conference deep learning experiences are vital to our attendees’ growth.

Embrace Designing Deep Learning Conference Experiences

We’ve got to embrace designing deep learning experiences. Not shallow/surface or advancement learning experiences.

We now know, that listening to experts and panelists results in shallow or surface learning, if any learning at all.

Deep learning is different than the acquisition of information. It is more than knowledge transfer from an expert to an attendee.

Deep learning experiences help participants use higher order thinking skills—analyzing, evaluating, problem-solving—to construct meaningful understanding.

Deep learning involves the critical analysis of new ideas, linking them to already known concepts, and principles so that this understanding can be used for problem solving in new, unfamiliar contexts. ~ Julian Hermida.

Deep learning experiences prepare participants for critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and adoption of new perspectives and mindsets. Participants are actively involved in activities and discussions instead of passively listening to a speaker.

Thinking about the characteristics of deep learning as described above, what type of education and networking sessions do we need to offer our conference attendees? Where have you experienced deep learning experiences and how did they unfold?

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