What the Evolution of Learning Means for Conferences

At this week’s digitalNow2017 conference, a number of speakers said that a new learning environment and the continuous need for professionals to gain new skills will require associations to adopt a new strategy. Here's a look at how it may affect conferences.

Earlier this week, I spent a few days in Orlando at digitalNow2017. While speakers talked about everything from the internet of things to nondues revenue and content strategy, a topic that came up time and time again, including from both keynoters, was the evolution of learning.

For example, in Tuesday’s opening keynote, Timothy Chou, a futurist and chairman of Alchemist Accelerator, discussed how shifts in technology will require people to adapt a new learning lifecycle.

“It’s not about going to school and then working for 40 years. That’s not the pattern,” he said. “What this is going to have to look like is 10-year chunks—two to learn, eight to execute, and then starting all over again.”

In Wednesday’s keynote, Britt Andreatta—CEO and president of Andreatta Consulting—shared a similar perspective, saying that five years is the half-life of any learned skill.

To ensure that members are getting the ever-changing skills required to do their jobs and to enhance their potential, Andreatta said that organizations must move from a model of training to a model of learning.

Whereas training is a specific event or activity designed from an organization’s perspective, Andreatta said learning can happen anywhere, at any time, and is designed from the learner’s perspective.

“You don’t want to tell your learners what they need to know,” she said. “You want to create inquiry and curiosity, as well as allow for the hands-on application of the information they receive.”

As I flew home to DC the other night, Chou’s and Andreatta’s keynotes on the evolution of learning and the need for professionals to continuously acquire new skills got me thinking about the implications on association meetings and conferences.

First, how can associations be better at allowing attendees to personalize their conference learning experiences?

While it’s common for associations to give attendees a variety of learning formats to choose from, providing an even greater ability to curate and personalize their learning could become a requirement. Providing hands-on learning experiences is one way to build a personalized learning environment for attendees, Andreatta said.

Second, if “time is not a measurement of learning,” as Andreatta and other learning professionals have said, how do associations ensure that their members are learning and getting the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs?

Andreatta suggested that organizations move away from measuring learning based on hours and toward competency-based measurements. “Otherwise, your learning program is going to be obsolete,” she said. Consider how your association can test whether your attendees acquired the skills that speakers set out to help them master.

Third, with the skills required for jobs constantly evolving, should associations consider how to extend the life of their annual conferences and other events? For example, on a quarterly basis, an association could push out mobile learning offerings to attendees based on sessions they had attended. These offerings could be anything from an interactive video that teaches a new skill to an online game that allows the attendee to learn and have fun at the same time.

I have a few more questions percolating in my mind, but I’ll leave those to a future blog post. Now it’s your turn: What other learning trends do you think will affect meetings and conventions in the years ahead? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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