Given that a full 90% of workers favor hands-on, experiential learning, it’s no surprise that education is one of the top reasons people attend corporate events.

So why, then, does everyone’s bright-eyed zeal for new skills and fresh insights tend to evaporate so quickly? Why do we so often encounter a sea of blank expressions, entranced by the blue light of smartphones? Why are side conversations and schmoozing such familiar sights?

It’s because although live events offer a unique opportunity to engage and educate attendees, they’re often not designed for the ways adults learn best.

LinkedIn Learning reports that 74% of talent developers plan to adjust their development programs to fit Generation Z workers and their learning styles. However, it’s not just a generational trend — it’s a new understanding of how adults learn. Here are four tips for designing events with adult learning in mind.

1. Move from lecture hall to laboratory.

Corporate events skew more toward university lectures than grade-school science labs. But in our opinion, that’s a miss. The sense of excitement we felt about learning as kids — the thrill of unearthing something new, getting our hands dirty, and exploring — can be recaptured in adulthood to great effect.

Corporate event designers should be careful not to pour their entire investment (or mountains of content) into a general session at the expense of more participatory learning environments. While keynotes absolutely have a role to play, so do conversations and challenges, experiments and exhibitions. These experiences that present opportunities for discovery and joy create the kind of learning laboratory where key messages are most effectively and lastingly internalized.

2. Allow for self-directed learning.

New research in cognition found that self-directed learning improves not only the learning experience, but also knowledge transfer and retention. The most effective events give attendees the freedom to choose the topics that are most relevant to them, as well as the learning styles that best suit them.

That means developing multiple learning tracks and implementing a choose-your-own-adventure approach. It means creating immersive environments that attendees can explore at their own pace. And it means delivering on key communications not solely in a keynote setting, but also via moving image, the written word, breakout sessions, and hands-on activities. It means putting the power of choice in attendees’ hands.

3. Promote peer-to-peer learning.

Securing inspiring and informative presenters is important, but so too is tapping into the experience and expertise of your audience. When attendees educate one another — developing collaborative theories, exchanging ideas, and sharing their diversity of experience — the impact on learning is significant.

In fact, research shows that the give and take associated with peer-to-peer learning helps develop problem-solving skills and solidify the learning material. One app that helps with this is Braindate. Operating at the intersection of networking and education, Braindate crowdsources meetup opportunities — inviting conference attendees to propose times and conversations — so it’s easy for people to find peers with interests that align and insights that resonate.

4. Make room for emotional engagement.

Neuroscientific research shows that “emotionally stimulating events are remembered more clearly, accurately, and for longer periods of time than emotionally neutral events.” In other words, emotional engagement intensifies the efficacy of the learning experience.

Peer-to-peer learning helps with emotional engagement because attendees forge rich human connections with each other. Similarly, you can enhance emotional engagement by contextualizing the educational materials with real-world examples, engaging the five senses, and leveraging the power of storytelling.

A Few Final Thoughts

  • Know your audience. Take note of whether you’re serving C-suite executives or hands-on practitioners. Unsurprisingly, they’re looking to learn different things in different ways.
  • Get tactical. Big theoretical ideas have their place. But when people are taking time to be at a corporate event, they want less academic insight and more actionable, applicable approaches to solving their real-world problems.
  • Design your space for success. Beyond programming for collaboration, design the venue for it. Maybe you’re breaking down walls literally, or perhaps it’s more a figure of speech. Either way, you want communal spaces where your audiences can serendipitously collide and connect.

When leveraged successfully, these insights into experiential learning will ensure your audiences leave even more inspired and energized than when they arrived.