Chris Ballman is senior director of Education & Learning Services at SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. For more information about education and learning services for your organization, call 800-539-9740.
Let’s be honest — we’ve all dozed through a long lecture, no matter how intriguing the subject matter. It’s difficult to maintain focus during a conference’s breakout session when your only involvement is sitting and listening.
If only the conference presenter had remembered Confucius’ words: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Associations are taking this wisdom to heart by providing rich educational experiences — both at the annual conference and year-round. First, their education facilitators are revising education strategies and delivery techniques to blend didactic presentations with opportunities for members to share, evaluate and react to information. Second, they are infusing activities such as games, round-table discussions and visual demos into their education sessions to better engage audiences. Lastly, they are incorporating active learning models into their year-round education programs.
When participants are more active in the education process and able to relate the information to their own experiences, they are more likely to embrace and understand the concepts being delivered.
Interactive instruction, also known as active learning, is transforming professional development programs. When participants are more active in the education process and able to relate the information to their own experiences, they are more likely to embrace and understand the concepts being delivered. This method of education renders better retention of the material when compared to passive methods such as lectures. Active learning also provides networking opportunities as peers work together to solve problems or learn a new idea. It promotes engagement and involvement in the industry, as attendees learn how they can apply these education sessions to their professional endeavors.
Introducing active learning sessions into your education sessions is easy. Some associations are embracing new technologies and social media. Other associations are training speakers and developing innovative delivery methods to encourage increased interaction. Following are some techniques and examples involving active learning.
New technologies, such as adding a second screen, encourage conference and business meeting attendees to communicate with presenters, conference organizers or each other in real time. Second screen involves interacting on a device, typically a smartphone, with another screen, like the exhibit hall display. For example, while listening to the speaker talk about his slides on the large screen, attendees can follow along on their smartphones and tablets. They also can take polls, leave comments in a chat room and review background information on the content being provided. This method stops attendees from passively listening and gets them actively engaging with the speaker, the content and other participants.
Social media is another way to fuse technology and education. At its annual conference, the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement launched APRA Talks, targeted brainstorming sessions that used games and social media to engage attendees. APRA members acted as casino dealers at each round-table to facilitate the conversation by dealing cards with questions regarding leadership. Meanwhile, volunteers listened to the discussions and shared key takeaways via Twitter. With more than 750 attendees, the session was a great success. APRA Talks has been going on for three years now and has become an integral part of the conference.
Providing speaker training on active learning can make a big difference for both the speakers and the attendees. Have your conference team work with the conference speakers to craft their learning objectives and practice audience engagement strategies.
For example, during the planning of its educational conferences, Feeding America — a premier hunger-relief charity — holds strategy sessions to teach leaders and speakers a variety of innovative learning formats. As a result, Feeding America’s conferences now include shorter, more focused presentations, interactive round-table discussions, live demonstrations, interactive visual displays and workshops designed specifically for senior level volunteers. Thanks to these improvements, attendees are extremely satisfied with the conferences’ content, giving it an average 4.25 out of 5 rating.
Rather than telling your audience about a significant change or new idea, show them. Changing your presentation delivery method to provide actual, live examples will certainly catch and keep your attendees’ attention.
The American Urogynecologic Society conducted a plenary session at its annual scientific meeting that featured a live broadcast of three operations performed by AUG’s members who are leading surgeons in the field. The session also included physicians moderating and conducting cadaveric demonstrations onsite. It provided a rare opportunity for attendees to learn directly from renowned surgeons and physicians. This live-feed video of a surgery is another example of how the right technology can enhance your education session.
To attract and keep your audience’s interest, develop innovative content and provide a variety of different delivery methods, such as storytelling. Everyone loves a good anecdote, especially one that relates to their personal or professional lives.
For an organization that knows a lot about delivery, Lamaze International kept their content delivery method simple. To help its childbirth educator members hone their teaching skills, they hosted interactive workshops to show educators how to use active learning techniques. One exercise asked attendees to describe awkward or challenging situations that educators face, and then the group worked together to determine potential resolutions. The opportunity to share experiences and expertise helped the content resonate with participants and contributed to the positive feedback.
Sometimes, the best learning comes from improvised moments or discussions. Try this idea during your next session. Stop the presentation and ask the group to offer a problem or situation related to the topic. Then, using a whiteboard, ask them to work together to design a solution. You also can designate topics for small-table discussions with the findings delivered to the full group. Don’t be afraid to stray into other discussions related to the topic.
The North American Wholesale Lumber Association kept the content of their Executive Management Institute innovative by having attendees shape the discussion. During the four-day intense educational program, which helped prepare and enhance the skills of future leaders in the forest products industry, attendees presented current, real-life problems or projects they are working on to a small discussion group. With guidance from industry leaders, the group of peers then offered solutions and suggestions to each participant. Class size was limited to 16, so everyone received enough attention and time to address their concerns. At the end of the week, select attendees gave a presentation on how their projects progressed.
Incorporating new techniques into your event for the first time may seem daunting. You don’t have to change everything at once! Start small with one or two sessions or incorporate second-screen technology for a Q&A at your general session. Even a few small changes incorporating active learning principles and techniques can make a big impact. Make sure to take a step back and think critically about your audience, their needs and style of learning. The more you understand what they want out of the program, the better you can focus the content and delivery method.
So go out there and get active with your education programs. By enlisting Confucius’ “do” philosophy, your attendees will become more involved and invested in their conference, and they will better understand the issues facing their association and industry as a whole. AC&F