Why I Hate Conferences!

I have attended many conferences over the years focused on eLearning and/or workplace learning. And although many presenters at these conferences spoke of the brave new world of training and the need to do things differently and to engage learners in new and innovative ways, each event was really no different than any conferences that have happened over the last few hundred years.

The pattern is a familiar one. Gather in a big room and be talked at for an hour or so. Then adjourn to smaller rooms where the same thing happens, only on a smaller scale. Repeat this for three days, until your butt is sore, your knees have seized up, and you are bored to tears. We seem to talk a lot about the importance of interaction and engagement in the training field, but are lousy at practicing what we preach. If you are lucky, you can ask the odd question here and there, but for the most part you experience a very passive mode of learning.

There is often a lot of talk about the importance of sharing the collective knowledge and experience of all those in attendance at the conference, but, in practice, there are really precious few opportunities to do so.

You would think as “learning experts” that we would realize that gathering people together physically in one place is a precious opportunity and that we should make the most of it by encouraging rich, meaningful, real-time interactions. However, we often squander these opportunities. For example, at an eLearning Producers Conference in Boston, I sat through a one-hour discussion about simulations and another one on gaming in training. We talked about simulations and games. We didn’t see any simulations or games, nor did we experience any (we didn’t even see screen shots of examples). This was rather surreal. It was much like going to an art gallery, being blind-folded, and having someone describe what was on the walls. All I could think was, “I waited for hours in an airport lounge for this?” We could have accomplished the same result via a conference call.

We need a new model of conference, one that is based on collaboration, idea sharing, learning-by-experiencing, and learning-by-doing. I encourage anyone interested in exploring a new model of conference to drop me a line. Sore butts of the world unite!

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