The future of learning: Get serious
Offering another perspective on the future of learning for associations is Jeffrey Cufaude, a former association executive director and now president and CEO of Idea Architects, where (among other areas of expertise) he facilitates and designs conferences, workshops, and other learning opportunities. Jeffrey also blogs at the Idea Architects blog, where heâ€™s currently writing a great series of posts about developing powerful presentations.
Hereâ€™s some of the many great things Jeffrey had to say about where associations are with regard to learning, and where we need to go.
Iâ€™ve heard you talk lately about issues related to diversity in association learning events. What should associations be doing to hold themselves accountable for greater diversity and inclusion in their learning programs?
I think you can start with the presenters. I think associations have an obligation to be doing due diligence about what messages they send based on the presenters that they are selecting.
I'm not saying that there should be a particular message, but if we believe and we value inclusiveness and top quality education and a whole host of other things, those then should be lenses by which we filter the choices we're making about our presenters, particularly the people who get the biggest platforms.
It would be rare for an association to bring in a political speaker or a person who has a political take on a topic without having thought about the consequences of only spotlighting one particular viewpoint. They may still choose to do it and say, no, we want this Democrat or this Republican's take on this issue. But they would have done this with deliberation and understand the consequences.
I don't think the same type of considerations are going on on other lenses. What does it mean if our three general session speakers are all 50-year-old white males? I'm not saying that's inherently bad. From my value system it is; from the association's standpoint it may not. But think about what that means in relation to the overall values of the organization.
I know, having been an education director and been around for long enough, how general session speakers are often selected. Who is the biggest name that people will get excited about listening to? And then secondly, when we get down into that plenary level, who will someone sponsor or who can we get for free?
That means our only criteria are those two core values. It's not looking at the broader set of core values. I don't think that's what people who are serious about learning should be doing.
And the consequence is that we continue to elevate the same voices and the same perspectives, and we create an echo chamber that those then become the voices and perspectives that people see because those are the ones that everyone's talking about.
What are some other things that you think associations need to be holding themselves accountable for with regard to learning?
The bulk of [conference] evaluation forms still primarily focus on satisfaction with the session. We're getting better. In my experience, maybe a quarter of those, up to a third, are getting into [questions like] â€œHow relevant will this be for you in your workplace?â€ â€œI received ideas that I'm going to be able to use.â€
But we're not even, in the basic level, asking questions that measure the effectiveness and the applicability of both the content and the format. We're still [asking] â€œthis speaker was knowledgeable; AV and handouts were good.â€ I feel like we haven't even made the commitment to the baby step of holding ourselves accountable, let alone having a more sophisticated assessment mechanism to find out what actually was used.
To me that suggests that we're not really serious about ensuring that we're delivering education that is actually used back in the workplace.
What would it look like if we really were serious about that?
I think youâ€™d see that as the finish line. Right now most associations and most directors of education see the finish line as the end of the event or the end of the webinar. I totally get that. But all we've really done is get people trained for the race; the real race is back there in the workplace.
I think there has to be an initial shift of thinking: We [know we] are successful three to six months afterwards, when people can tell us what percentage of the knowledge they used, what has worked for them, and what hasn't.
If you take that as a beginning mindset, you design things very differently from the very beginning. â€¦
Why don't people ask what percentage of the session's content is going to be relevant to you in the work that you do? Why is that so hard to get that put onto an evaluation form? Sometimes we think about it being the meeting planner, focusing on logistics versus the director of education focusing on content. But I think that's too easy to blame the meeting planner.
If we're really serious about learning, why aren't we further along in this arena? That's the same thing I've been saying with diversity. If we were really serious about it, wouldn't things look different?
My bottom-line takeaway from that is we're not serious about learning. We're serious about delivering information, and that's not sustainable 10 to 20 years from now.