Four Personalization Strategies Conferences And Associations Can Adopt From Education


Let’s separate reality from fiction regarding personalized conference experiences and personalized learning.

Fact: Meeting professionals and conference vendors frequently confuse personalization with configurable conference experiences. They are not the same thing.

Fact: Conference planners and association leaders are easily persuaded by the puffery of conference personalization. Those that want to pursue personalization need to be savvy consumers. “They have to ask the tough questions that any vendor makes,” says Bart Epstein, CEO, Jefferson Education Accelerator, a University of VA network of researchers, educators and entrepreneurs. And they must remember that conference personalization is more than implementing a technology tool.

Note: Read A Cautionary Word From Research About Personalization and other conference personalization posts here and here.

Defining Conference Personalization And Personalized Learning

Let’s dig a little deeper.

What is conference personalization, since everyone in the conference industry seems to be talking about it? And what is personalized learning? And how does personalized learning impact adult education programming such as conference education?

What is personalized learning?

Personalized learning at its basic level is designing learning experiences that meet a learner’s individual needs while incorporating their interests, preferences, social-emotional factors, goals, aspirations and ongoing progress.
~ Continued Progress: Promising Evidence On Personalized Learning Report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/RAND Corporation, November 2015.

So what is conference personalization?

At its most elementary level, conference personalization is designing unique, participant experiences that meet an individual’s needs while incorporating their interests, preferences, social-emotional factors, goals, aspirations and ongoing progress. It is not a one-size-fits-all standardized conference experience.
~ Paraphrase and application of personalized learning as defined in the previously mentioned Gates Foundation/Rand Report.

Meeting professionals and association leaders can learn a lot from the Gates/Rand comprehensive ongoing study of what’s working with personalized learning, what’s needed and how to contextualize personalization for their conference customer experiences.

Four Personalized Strategies To Adopt

The Gates Foundation, researchers, funders and leaders in the learning field identified five strategies that are present in successful personalized learning models. Four of those strategies have a direct correlation to creating personalized conference experiences.

1. Learner Profiles

How well do you know your conference target market? Rarely do meeting professionals maintain detailed conference customer profiles except registration and certification data.

This strategy aims to give meeting professionals an up-to-date record of each conference customer’s individual strengths, needs, motivations, progress and goals. This is Big Data meets learning and conferences in all its glorious application. This data helps conference organizers design specific programs and experiences for each customer.

2. Personal Learning Journeys

People attend conferences for two primary reasons: learning and networking. This strategy allows for flexibility for each individual to choose their own conference path that integrates their overall learning journey both inside and outside of the event. Participants can choose meaningful conference learning and networking approaches—pre-, onsite and post-conference—that meets their needs and aspirations. The focus is on designing learning and networking experiences not just content distribution. Specific conference time is also dedicated to mentorship and one-on-one support tailored to each individual’s learning needs.

3. Competency-Based Progression

Today, most certification programs require individuals to accumulate an exact number of scheduled-appointment-butt-in-seat classroom hours in specific predetermined topics. Then they must demonstrate their knowledge by passing a standardized test. Conferences traditionally offer some legacy certification-approved lectures and panel discussions. The focus is on delivery of specific required content to receive or maintain certification.

This strategy flips the traditional certification model on its head with an aim of each participant demonstrating competency. Progress toward clearly defined goals is continually assessed on demand when a participant is ready. Assessment may take a variety of forms from projects to presentations to problem solving simulations. Conference networking and learning experiences help participants connect, understand, contextualize and apply real world information. The focus is learner-centric, not content- or speaker-centric. Conference organizers intentionally plan, design and implement facilitated learning experiences that demonstrate competency towards personal learning journeys.

4. Flexible Learning And Networking Environments

This strategy means that conference organizers use resources such as staff/leaders, sponsors, space, and time in flexible ways to support personalization. For example, elements of the learning space—room size, environment, approaches, and furniture—enable, not hinder, personalized learning. The structure of learning/networking time and session formatting are flexible, responsive to individual needs, and, based on data. The focus is on learning effectiveness of the experience not efficiency of the environment.

Which of these four conference personalized learning strategies resonates with you? What hinders you from implementing any of these strategies?

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1 comment
  1. Jeff, I’ve often wondered how the CIC and other certifying bodies are coping with the ever changing notion of “learning” – especially in the world of meetings and conferences. As learners demand more interactive styles – unconferences, fishbowls, peer learning, etc. – and find that is where the real learning happens, how do we account for that in our traditional certification models? Your competency based progression model gives an interesting framework for building a new structure. Thanks for the spark!

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