Case Study: Continuing the Learning after a Conference Session

Last fall I had an opportunity to deliver a pair of presentation skills sessions at the Arkansas Early Childhood Association Annual Conference in Little Rock. Everyone I encountered during the few days that I was in Arkansas showed me an amazing time, the session participants were engaged throughout, and then I got on a plane and returned home. What did the participants do with the concepts I’d taught?

Recently, I exchanged a few messages with one of the conference organizers – Michelle Pounds – and was amazed to hear how they had extended the learning from my sessions. It can serve as a model for how organizations can get the most out of their investment in sending people to a conference, maximizing the possibility that the learning is applied in the real world. Following is a brief description of what Michelle and her team did to keep the learning going, written in Michelle’s words:  

My family likes to travel together.  We’ve taken several international trips, all of which have been wonderful.  But planning a trip is hard work!  And even though we are all full-grown adults, they look to me as their travel agent.  I’m expected to know flight information, train schedules, museum hours, dining options…even the weather forecast!  I spend a lot of time making sure everyone gets where they are going at the right time while wearing the right shoes.  When I was invited to go to Turkey with my godson’s school, a trip fully planned and led by their Turkish principal, I jumped.  You mean I get to take an amazing journey and all I have to do is show up and partake?  Woohoo!  It was nice to spend my time fully engaged and enjoying each moment instead of worrying about tomorrow’s schedule.

As a full-time trainer, I spend a lot of time playing travel agent.  I focus on the logistics of the learning journey and not the engaging moments along the way.  It’s not that I don’t want to be in those moments, but someone has to make sure the projector works.  So when I have the chance to go on a guided tour with a knowledgeable leader, I jump!

One opportunity my colleagues and I have is a one-day Trainer Track at our annual state conference.  Each year we bring in a guest from across the country to serve as our learning guide, most recently we invited Brian Washburn of Endurance Learning.  We relish this time to spend as trainees rather than trainers.  It’s like Christmas!  But let’s be honest.  It’s hard to maintain that enthusiasm once you’re headed home, especially when your inbox continued to fill up, the next deadline is looming, and your family actually missed you.

So what’s a well-intentioned trainer to do?

We needed a way to continue our journey.  And we needed a guide to do it.  So, I reprised my role as “travel agent” and set about creating the second leg of our trip.

The Conference Itinerary

First, we had to determine the best way to reach our destination.  Our goal was to make sure that what we’d learned didn’t stay tucked away in our bags.  We needed to provide a way for participants to review and reflect, and to share what they had learned, how they had used it, and how it went.  We were already offering online training and had the platform in place, so we created a new online course.  We then set up discussion boards for week-long online discussions that were based on each conference session. These one-week courses were scheduled three months after the conference to allow time for processing and incorporating new ideas.

Conference Tickets

Everyone who attended the Trainer Track was invited to join the discussion. A “ticket” was necessary to get into the discussion boards, and it was only good for the specific conference session(s) they attended.  During the week that the course was open, participants could access the course at their convenience and post as often as they liked.

Hagia Sophia

We started each session with the “must see” attractions.  For example, Brian’s discussion on PowerPoint.  How could we not talk about that?

Miniaturk

We also made time for side trips, because sometimes the best stuff is off the beaten path!  Everyone needs a chance to share what they thought was significant and most influenced their work.  To do this, we included questions like:

  • What new idea(s) did you try?
  • How did it feel?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What (if anything) will you do differently in the future?

post-conference learning

Making Connections

While it’s important to connect learning and practice, this journey was about more than the application of content.  Through these discussions, we were able to reflect with our peers, learn from each other’s experiences (and mistakes!), and connect personally and professionally with other trainers from across the state.

Unpacking

All the great souvenirs we collect during our journey do us no good if we leave them in our suitcases.  We need to put them out where we are reminded of their significance, where others can see them and encourage us to share our stories.  We seem to crave these opportunities to come together as peers and discuss our work.  These follow-up sessions helped us do that.

Much like life, learning is a journey and not a destination.

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