It’s not what you give them; it’s what they take away that counts. – Mel Silberman, 1942-2010

istockphotoThe effectiveness of conference learning continues to be on the minds of many in the association world.

Conferences are primarily learning events, and as such I think we can all agree participant learning needs to be the focus. A lot of the conversations I see on this topic revolve around conference organizers and session leaders, and rarely include those who attend these sessions. Instead of thinking only about getting session leaders to be more engaging, a shift in perception and focus to that of being a “learner advocate” would put both organizer and session leader into a learner-centered mindset. And that shift, while seemingly subtle, can have huge ramifications on what learners take away.

At the same time, attention needs to be paid to helping learners be more effective in their role – learn and apply.

Jeff Cobb devotes a section of his excellent book Leading the Learning Revolution to this topic, in which he comments about shifting power to the learners: Continue reading →


If you’ve had any doubts we’re in the middle of a learning revolution, consider this: Jane Hart, Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies and one of my favorite learning thought leaders, once wrote “An increasing number of knowledge workers are finding their own solutions to their individual and team learning and performance problems on the Social Web… bypassing both the IT and L&D [learning & development] department.”

It’s a new world of personal knowledge management (PKM), and this post is still valid; in it, Jane describes some of the changes corporate learning departments are making to adapt. With corporate L&D professionals shifting their roles from providing learning content to supporting employees in learning how to manage their own learning activities, how might this affect associations’ roles in learning?

Considering that associations seem for some reason to lag a year or two behind the corporate world, now is the time to be thinking about it!

Here are a few of my thoughts: Continue reading →


I spent a couple of days working with a client’s leadership team on creating a new vision and strategy for learning in their organization. It was a gathering of key team leaders; what others might call committee chairs. These are the volunteers in the trenches, doing the work that results in the association’s various activities.

In working with this client over about 18 months, we’d been building towards presenting to the board of directors an over-arching vision and strategy for member learning that supports the organization’s established strategic framework. This gathering was just the latest step in the process.

It was exciting to see this small, relatively young association embrace the future of learning in examining its own operating environment in context with today’s learning revolution. While these volunteer and staff leaders acknowledge the association’s limitations, they haven’t let those limitations inhibit their thinking. “Oh, we don’t have the resources to do that next year? Maybe we will in a few years.” They’re seeking to build a bold vision they can implement in small steps as resources become available.

What was exciting to me is that this association is developing a vision and strategy for learning that goes well beyond the traditional, somewhat narrow focus that learning in associations consists only of events like conferences and webinars. They aren’t trying to figure out how to Continue reading →