The Impact of Meetings on Adult Education – and How Technology is Changing It
© 2007 Corbin Ball Associates
Gone are the days where a college education will set you for life – much of what college students learn today at the start of their education is obsolete by the time they graduate. Educator Karl Fisch sums up the challenge: “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
According to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.
Consequently, continuing education is an increasingly important need for adults. We all are challenged to simply to keep up with the constant advance in business practices and we must be regularly updated in order to stay competitive in our jobs.
This is where events come in. Corporate and association educational sessions and networking are very important methods of adult education – they are major ways to share knowledge and to help us all keep up in our careers.
However, the advances in technology are very much changing the way we receive this education at meetings. Here are some of the ways that this is playing out:
Information is cheap – wisdom is where the value lies
We are awash in information. It is estimated that a week’s worth of New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century! There are billions of uniquely addressable web pages on Google. We need help in sorting it all out.
Meetings are a place where we can learn from speakers and, as importantly, from each other as we sort out theses challenges. Speakers who are regurgitating data will fade in influence being replaced by those who can sort out the important “stuff” and deliver it effectively.
Decreasing tolerance for pages of bulleted PowerPoint text
“Death by PowerPoint” is the joke commonly heard at many meetings. PowerPoint is likely the most misused of any computer software ever made.
However, when used properly, computer visuals can increase retention and assist in learning. The challenge to presenters (and meeting planners working with non-professional speakers) will be to insist on using this technology effectively with increasingly sophisticated audiences. Page after page of text just won’t cut it. Whereas, pictures, simple graphs, and key words to emphasize points (when used judiciously) will assist in the learning process.
Decreasing tolerance for the “Talking Head”
There are times where a speaker with good delivery skills can capture an audience, keep them on the edge of their seats, and succinctly present relevant information in a manner that will have significant impact.
However, attendees with increasingly sophisticated demands for custom learning online will not tolerate speakers who are not engaging and cannot deliver the message effectively.
Audience participation and polling
One of the best ways of engaging the audience is through audience participation. The collective wisdom in a room almost always exceeds that of an individual, including the speaker.
Web 2.0 technologies are allowing us to have our voice heard on blogs, online videos, social websites, online user ratings of hotels and sellers, and more. We increasing expect to have our voices heard online, and this will carry over to meetings. Audience participation will be increasingly demanded of speakers and meeting planners from savvy attendees who want their say and realize the value of the wisdom of the group.
An example of how this may play out is web-based audience polling designed for cell phones and other mobile devices provided by VisionTree (www.visiontree.com). In the not too distant future, people will be able to vote on issues at a meeting quickly, accurately, anonymously (everyone gets and equal say), and at no cost by simply pulling out their web-enabled phones.
Remote meetings merging with face-to-face meetings
Advancing video/web conference technologies and novel new forms of connection such as Second Life (www.secondlife.com) are enabling people to meet globally with a few mouse-clicks. These technologies will work their way into face-to-face meetings. As evidenced in recent presidential debates where the questioners came from YouTube (www.youtube.com) videos, these simple, and reliable new ways of participation will increasingly be used in events. Additionally, advances in HDTV (high-definition television) and telepresence technologies as being developed by Cisco http://www.cisco.com/web/solutions/telepresence/fox/) will improve the video conference experience at meetings.
Much of the learning at meetings occurs in the hallways during coffee breaks, receptions and other non-seminar events. We learn from each other through networking. The challenge is that the principal means of networking, the name badge, has been relatively unchanged in the last forty years.
Although name badges work, there are many improved means becoming available. Web-based networking tools and proprietary networking tools, such as SpotMe (www.spotme.com) and nTAG (www.ntag.com), are adding much better ways of finding people of like interests at events. On the horizon, mobile phone technology using rich web-browsing capabilities such as is found with the iPhone, combined with social networking and geo-positioning tools, will provide enhanced networking functionality in the hands of everyone carrying a mobile phone.
Taking the conference home with you
As much as we may wish it were otherwise, we can only be in one place at a time – making it very difficult to attend multiple tracks at large conferences. Fortunately, the technology to record conference audio, combine it with the speaker slides, sometimes combined with video and a searchable transcripts of the event, and place it up quickly on the web has advance greatly over the past few years. Companies such as Conference Archives (www.conferencearchives.com), Essential Event Technologies (www.essentialet.com), Total Conference Recall (www.tcr-conference.com), Mira Digital Publishing (www.mirasmart.com) and Altus (www.altuslearning.com) provide rich-media copies of the presentations accessible over the web to pick up on the sessions you missed, review sessions you particularly liked, or to remotely attend and learn from the conference that you were not able to make it there physically.
Conference recording technologies will extend the life of a meeting and have a significant benefit to adult learning in the fast changing world.
Meetings in general will remain central in the options for adult education in the industrialized world. Technology will help to make meetings more accessible and help significantly in the learning process for the attendees.