Chat2lrn is a regular tweetchat for learning folks. The topic this week was “Choosing the right conference”. If you’re spending up to a £1000 on a ticket then it’s important you pick the right one and get a lot out of the experience. You can catch the full transcript of the tweetchat here. It got me thinking about what we expect from the conference experience and whether there might be a better way to meet those needs.

Why do we go to conferences?

  1. 5238937364_f2a863f674Ideas – we go to hear the thought leaders, the gurus, talking about best and next practices. We go to hear case studies about practical things that worked in real life at real organisations.
  2. Inspiration – we go to be inspired. Ideas+motivation=Inspiration. Conferences can re-energise us and create the desire and belief we need to put new ideas into action.
  3. Social – we go to meet old friends and make new ones, to widen and deepen our social networks. We rarely get the chance to immerse ourselves in an environment so rich with people as passionate about learning as we are.

Does the format of a conference deliver on these promises?

Apart from the odd keynote, the line-ups are rarely diverse. When do you get to hear about what’s going on in adjacent or tangential fields?

How many of the case studies we hear have compelling proof that they really made the impact they say they did? I’m probably more cynical than most, but I’m always surprised at how flimsy the evidence is of success.

How many of the ideas we hear are really that exciting? Chances are we heard about it on Twitter months ago and probably from one of the actual conference speakers too.

Do we make enough effort to welcome new people into the industry and the social scene of the conference circuit? It’s fine if you’re down with the Twitterati, but conference can be intimidating if you don’t know anyone

It probably sounds like I don’t really like conferences. That’s not the case, conferences are more than the sum of their parts. The anticipation and excitement can be compelling. The buzz and sense of belonging was powerful at Learning Technologies this year and as an experience it was more memorable than anything I could have done online.

We can still share ideas, spark inspiration and socialise with people online, but as we saw from the chat2lrn conversations, it’s a poor substitute, not an adequate replacement. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as the face to face experience.

At this point you might expect me to plug weeLearning and say “look at us, we do all that, we’ve found another way and we do it all for free”. But I’m not going to (unless you count that last sentence, which I don’t).

Instead I’d like to invite you to re-imagine the conference experience.

  • What are the essential elements?
  • How would you make it more inclusive and accessible?
  • How could you crowd-source the topics and speakers?
  • Could you get more speakers from outside L&D?
  • How would you make it less passive?

At weeLearning in March we’ll be trying to answer these questions using design thinking. It’s a warm-up event for The Big Idea on the 19th April, but it’s also a chance to collaborate on something exciting and important wherever you are. Join us if you can make it to Bristol (UK) on the 20th March at 7pm. If you can’t make it then join in online whichever way you prefer:

Let’s start with one question:

Why do you go to conferences?

Photo Credit: Gus NYC via Compfight cc

Post by: Sam Burrough (39 Posts)