Learning About Learning – Live and In-Person

For all the time I spend researching and discussing emerging and cutting edge learning technologies and modalities, I am here today to champion to beauty of the in-person event. I just spent a week at our very own Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence Conference 2017 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. I then followed that up immediately with a few days in San Diego attending Training 2017. Over the next 12 months I’m sure I will spend many more days speaking at and attending several more events. And while I may be a bit biased as to the supreme value of our conference, I find all of these experiences carry value. shutterstock_569394061

In a day and age when organizations are leveraging technology to help limit travel, I find live events to be more important than ever. Live events provide insights that often cannot be gleaned from other resources and they cover the entire spectrum from futurist thought leadership to nuts and bolts practicality. At first glance, many learning events seem to be somewhat frivolous, especially to those not attending. But if you ignore the lights and cameras, the gimmicks and parties, and the ads and the swag, most of these events are a wealth of information, connections and ideas.

I’ll start with Excellence 17, since I am intimately familiar. I was involved in four sessions, delivering research and perspective and topics such as blended learning, the future of the learning organization, and compelling content. You can get a lot of what I provided from the research in our membership, some of our webinars and even in these blogs. What is not available anywhere else are the stories of our award winners putting these theories into practice and getting results. Attendees get to hear directly from the people who are actually doing the great things we are talking about. They get to hear about successes, failures and lessons learned. And the value is not limited to the sessions themselves. The follow-up conversations in the hallways, during lunch and, yes, at the bar, are full of new ideas and plans to move ahead.

This is essentially true for most of the events I attend. Training 2017 is much larger than our conference, and has a slightly different focus. The attendees are more likely to be the people doing the work rather than the pontificating. As such, the sessions tend to be focused more on practical, sometimes transactional challenges. This is not a pejorative description. I find that sometimes I spend too much time trying to see 10 years into the future, and lose sight of what needs to be done today. Time spent with the attendees in San Diego can be eye-opening.

The common thread to me is the connection of real human beings together in a real place. Even as a technology evangelist, I do not foresee a technology that can adequately replicate the in-person experience. Technology can help us accomplish many things, but it cannot take away our innate human tendencies. I simply find the connections made at these events stronger and the knowledge stickier than in any other format.

That said, you could spend the entire year on the road attending events (I’m getting close). It’s important to pick and choose. Do a little research and determine which events meet the needs of your organization, your role, and your personality. I find the ones that feature content and speakers from learning professionals from a cross section of organizations to be the best, rather than an assembly of just thought leaders or futurists. And don’t be swayed by keynote speakers! They may have star power and be great speakers, but their material rarely relates to the purpose of the event, except for a couple of ham-handed phrases mentioning corporate learning or HR.

To sum up, get out there! I know money is tight, but there is great potential to learn how to do this thing called learning better, faster and stronger – which in the long run will save money. I know it can be a hard sell, but it is true. Can’t wait to see you at the next thing!

David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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