December 22, 2014—I recently had the opportunity to attend several lifelong learning events. They were refreshing in the sense that I got to be a participant, and sometimes, a spectator. My family teased me about going to an event where I was not the presenter, asking, “What are you going there for, really?” As is the case with many lifelong learners, my tendency is to strive to learn on several levels. For example, being attentive to: (1) the content of the presentations, (2) the ways of thinking of the presenters, (3) the ways the presenters communicate (“teach”) their information, and (4) being attentive to what I am learning and how I am being challenged. There’s something to be learned from all levels.
One frustrating experience at these events is seeing how few presenters practice effective presentation skills. And fewer show evidence of knowing how to apply effective learning theories. Too many of these events are “sage on the stage” experiences where participants come to sit and listen. What, if anything is learned, is left to happenstance.
In the book Active Learning, educator and psychologist Mel Silberman identified eight qualities of an effective and active learning experience:
1. A moderate level of content. Don’t throw in everything; be selective about what you will cover.
2. A balance between affective, behavioral, and cognitive learning. All three are important but many times presenters tend to focus on the cognitive only (even when they are talking about “emotional process”!)
3. A variety of learning approaches. Some learners learn best by seeing, others by hearing, and others by doing. Most presentations were formatted around hearing an expert talk. Incorporate opportunities for all three learning modalities.
4. Opportunities for group participation. Learners have something valuable to share. Recognize their contributions. Additionally, the very process of sharing reflections and insights, and comparing them with others, deepens the learning experience.
5. Encouraging participants to share their expertise.
6. Recycling concepts and skills learned earlier. Review what the learners knows or has previously learned on the subject.
7. Advocating real-life problem solving.
8. Allowing time for re-entry. Help learners discuss and discover their skills and what actions they can do to incorporate what they are learning in their lives.
Would that conference presenters use even four out of the eight! I’d likely come away a happier learner.