Not another conference...
Jenny Hunt proposes a radical change of approach - the Skills for Life Show.
After reading Carol Taylor's article on conferences (reflect Issue 4) I began to wonder if it was time to think 'outside the box' about what sort of event should be organised for people who are interested in Skills for Life. If we want people to learn, take action and make things happen as a result of what they experience by attending a conference, and given that people want to network, hear from experts, see examples of good practice, and look at and try out new resources, why don't we have a series of national Skills for Life shows? Something along the lines of the BETT Show which attracts thousands of people every year.
Engaged and involved
The challenge, bearing in mind that facts don't influence and change behaviour but emotion does, is to deliver something that is atypical and to invest in an experience which keeps people engaged, interested and involved. It's common for conferences to use exactly the same formats year after year and throughout the day i.e. plenaries, workshops and panel sessions. So something which is more interactive and a real experience may be what is called for.
The new Skills for Life Show could be an exciting, eclectic mixture of workshops, expert seminars, practitioner demonstrations, e-learning hands-on sessions, a networking area, message boards, resource displays, model lesson demonstrations, poster sessions, videos, 99-second presentations, surgeries and learner testimonials. Such a range of attractions, formats and styles would ensure that everyone could get what they wanted from the event.
And why would this work? One reason is because what people remember about a good experience is that it was fun, they learned something new and they felt inspired. Another is because of the way adults find out about things. Evidence shows that most people remember and learn from an activity in which they were actively involved. How many people remember much about a presentation five minutes after it has finished?
Diversity and learning styles
The Skills for Life Show would reflect the diversity of needs that conference-goers have (which Carol identified) and would also address differentiation in relation to how people benefit from and receive information.
It would support different learning styles. We know that individuals differ in their ability to learn, depending on how it is conveyed. Some people are visual learners, others auditory and others kinaesthetic. So, for learning to occur, a successful event would have to use a variety of media and formats. The visual learners could pick up handouts to read before they attended seminars, and look at visual displays, videos and flipcharts. The auditory learners could attend lectures, workshops and testimonials, take part in discussions and talk things through. The kinaesthetic learners could get involved in practical hands-on sessions.
Speakers and experts
This new model Skills for Life Show would also call for a fresh approach to what was expected of keynote speakers and experts. They would have new demands made on them because, in order to be flexible and cater for a range of delegate choices, they would have to agree to prepare a transcript of their presentation, to be videoed so people could look at it later, and even perhaps to be prepared to join in discussions or sit on a panel of experts to answer questions from the field. Also, we might (dare I say it?) ask them to change the way they present, moving away from the standard PowerPoint to something which is more interactive and that integrates the audience in the discussion.
This new 'market-place' approach would need a lot of coordination, hard work and imagination. But wouldn't it be fun, and wouldn't it give Skills for Life a cutting-edge profile, not only in this country but worldwide?
Jenny Hunt is a director of Schemeta Ltd, which provides consultancy to support the development and implementation of e-learning strategies. For more information see www.schemeta.com