In recent days I’ve been reading a lot about the shake-up going on in learning, learning effectiveness (or lack of it), and how everyone wants to see learning events like conferences and webinars transformed. And for some time, I’ve been seeing variations of this somewhat-plaintive question: how do we get our conference speakers to stop lecturing and start engaging?
I’d really love to invent a magic wand that with a single touch would transform subject-matter experts (SMEs) into the ideal “facilitator of learning” role we all want them to have. I’d make a fortune selling it to associations and corporations that want their conference sessions and other learning opportunities transformed from, as I said in my TED-style talk in the Learning Lounge at January’s PCMA Convening Leaders event, “ho-hum” to “oh, wow.” Speakers would lead amazing sessions, participants would always get what they need, and conference organizers would be very happy indeed. Sadly, we don’t yet have that magic-wand-building technology.
Discovering SMEs. A big part of the work I do now and have done over the past couple of dozen years centers on helping SMEs move towards that coveted “facilitator of learning” role. In working with hundreds of SMEs across dozens of professions and industries in both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, I’ve learned a few things about what makes them “tick,” what motivates them, what concerns them, and what it takes to transform them into facilitators of learning. It’s not magic, although the results can be magical.
SMEs all have one thing in common. Of course, it’s that they know their content (to sometimes varying degrees). At least, they know that content in relation to the work they do. They are typically very good at that work, which is why they are invited to speak to others about what they do and how they do it…about their successes and lessons learned. People want to hear success and failure stories in hopes of either emulating or avoiding what the speaker has experienced. Hearing the voices of others who have trod your road before you can be very powerful.
The thing is, just hearing about such experiences doesn’t mean you are learning.
Learning is a partnership. Effective learning is collaborative. It’s engagement. It’s the sharing of knowledge and seeking meaning and application that makes sense for the learners’ situations. It can and does happen organically, yet a “guide on the side” can offer value learners alone may not achieve. There will always be a role for subject-matter experts in effective learning…that role is clearly changing, though, as the world becomes more connected. Continue reading →