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The future of learning: Experience it

As I mentioned earlier this week, this month we’re going to be exploring several different perspectives on the future of learning, much like we did last month with community. Our first conversation was with Rhea Blanken of Results Technology, a passionate advocate for learning in general and new learning formats in particular. And by nontraditional, I mean nontraditional: At a recent event, she convinced a hotel to pile every possible kind of seating in the corner of the room—everything from standard conference room chairs to sofas and chaise lounges—so that attendees could select their own seats and decide where they wanted to put them. And that was just the beginning of their learning experience.

Here’s some of what Rhea had to say.

You’ve long championed the cause of nontraditional learning formats. What motivates you to be so passionate about new ways of approaching learning?

The first experiential learning design I did was over 35 years ago. It was an all-day training for fundraisers; I was a volunteer training for United Jewish Appeal. Back in the ’70s, Russia said you could to immigrate to Israel, but it was going to cost you $10,000 a head. So we needed to raise a lot of money, and we needed to raise it fast. And that kind of fundraising isn’t about having a nice conversation with someone. You needed to experience what we were doing it for.

[Participants] got the experience of leaving Russia, got the experience of immigration, got the experience of deprivation, got the experience of welcome. These were very proper Southern Jewish women, and the effect was startling, because they were immersed in what we were talking about. What we needed to do is respect their time, respect how they would absorb things. …

As learners, we’ve changed, and one of the ways we’ve changed is, I want the entire experience. Let me have it. Back in school, you hated being talked to; what you learned was when you were involved in it, either by actually experiencing the idea of it, or in the construction of a learning lesson. …

Get people involved in their own learning. Don’t give them a book. Even a webcast can get them involved. Virtual doesn’t mean you don’t have them involved. But if you just have them sitting down and listening, they will not walk away with much.

Are you seeing more associations experiment with different learning formats?

Yes. You had at Great Ideas a session where one of the guys did a board game about training volunteers. There have been a couple of reports in Associations Now where different staff at associations have created board games to train staff at that organization. What I know to be true is there is experimentation going on. There are individual staff people getting it.

Has the association community turned the corner? No. But individuals are getting it. It’s these little moments, but they are learning, they are seeing how to do little things on their own. They just need to be encouraged that it’s OK.

What is your vision for the future of learning in associations?

We’re still going to have meetings, and I think we’re meant to meet. We’re relationship based. I don’t know if cows have meetings, but human beings meet; it’s what we do. That is not going to change.

If I had my druthers, it would be that the venues we meet in would let us use them to their fullest capacity, and wouldn’t say “No, we can’t do that here.” They would say, “How can we do that?” … That blank room is my canvas, and I can paint anything I want with it. Stop saying no, and start saying “Yeah, let’s look at that.”

Number two is that the people presenting that learning, they get supported. You can be a great expert, but if you’re never taught how to present, you’re not going to be successful. …

We’re still going to meet, online and in person. I don’t want to say there’s only going to be one way [to meet]. There’s not. We’ll always need venues, delivery systems, and deliverers of content. But we need to be more creative, more inclusive, more inventive.

(How can we become more creative and inventive? Rhea spoke about creativity and how to create a culture that nurtures it in a recent ASAE & The Center video.)

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Comments

Rhea and Lisa -- Great post! Love these ideas and ways to get learning farther away from the sage on the stage mentality that has governed learning events for so long.

And while I agree that the focus will always be on connecting in person, research (including ASAE and The Center's latest reports) continue to demonstrate that more and more associations are turning to online options.

Webinars/Webcasts continue to be popular, and more organizations are getting into social networking.

But more options that are very affordable -- some with very low break-even thresholds so you can generate revenue from them early -- are available for reaching geographically diverse members who are strapped for travel funding.

The key is to know what's available, how the various delivery modes are best leveraged, where to find them, and how to implement them. But who has the time for that?

I think we rely on what we've always done because it usually seems like the fastest way to get from here to there -- not because we think it's the best thing to do, and not because we don't think ideas like these are good ones.

It's just that implementing something new takes time, a scarce commodity these days. Don't you agree?

Hands-on learning is great! But many people would like to do it without being forced to participate in discussions. They can learn more about how to use technology if they are able to use technology in a learning setting. Just don't make them talk to everybody.

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