2516648940_ab432e08e9The topic of adult education is a hot one in the events world. Conference organizers are always looking for ways to improve their events and draw more attendees. For events where education is the focus it’s only natural to want to deliver that education in the best possible way.

Event organizers read about trends in education or listen to an “expert” in adult education and they immediately want to implement what they learned.

While I think it’s great that conference organizers are interested in these different learning models, I fear this is a case where a little knowledge can do a lot of harm. If you think about it logically, there is no way there can be one right way of learning because there is no one single type of learner. Not to mention that different types of content need to be presented different ways.

I keep hearing TED talks or consultants in our industry talk about how lectures are antiquated. They say they are an ineffective way of learning. I keep reading that adults must be active participants in their learning. Okay, I can get behind that.

But I do not understand why active participant means that I have to sit at a table and talk to other attendees about the topic being presented. I don’t understand why you are forcing me to be an active participant by forcing me to draw pictures and play with Play-Doh.

I like lectures. I’ve talked to a lot of other people who attend educational events and I find they also like lecture-formatted learning. Introverts often find lecture format far more preferable than workshop style leaning. Sitting in a lecture does not mean that I’m not an active participant. I am very active. I am processing what is being said, I am taking notes on ideas I want to explore further and I am often questioning what is being presented.

My learning doesn’t just take place during the presentation, it takes place long after as I process what I’ve heard and form more solid opinions on the topic.

I found it interesting that at PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston this January, the organizers invited design students from MIT and Harvard to come to the event. Their job was to evaluate the experience through the eyes of a designer.

When they were asked what they thought of the sessions, one MIT student said she really liked the lectures but didn’t enjoy the workshops so much. She even pointed out how odd that may seem given educational structure is one of active project based learning…not lectures. But here’s the thing. This student said that project based learning works at MIT because you do it for a semester, not in an hour and a half session. You cannot possibly delve into anything with any meat to it in an hour or even two hours in a workshop format.

Now before anyone thinks I’m against any kind of active leaning models, let me tell you I am not at all against them. I think they are very appropriate in the right situation and with the right group of people. Just as lectures are perfect for the right group of people and the right content being presented.

I’m just saying, consider offering options to your attendees. Have a good mix of lectures, panel sessions, workshops and perhaps even peer-to-peer discussions. Give your attendees a choice in the way they want to consume their education. There is not one type of attendee, so it goes to reason; there is not one right way to package education.

I think it’s far more important to invest in the quality of the content being presented, than just focusing on the format in which it is delivered.

Photo Credit: Wesley Fryer via Compfight cc