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Reimagine signature events to empower self-directed learners

By: Aaron Wolowiec | Aug, 7 2012

On Tuesday, Aug. 14, I’ll have the pleasure of presenting with leadership strategist Cynthia D’Amour at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Dallas. Our session, “Reimagine Signature Events to Empower Self-directed Learners” will run in the first of two learning lab time slots (9 – 10:15 a.m.) in Room D171 (in case you were still undecided about which session to attend). Now, many of you likely know Cynthia. I've had the opportunity to work with her professionally (which will serve as the basis for our session). She was also one of the first people I turned to when launching my consulting business last year. And when Selma and I moved into our new home last fall, both she and James were here to partake in the housewarming festivities. Nevertheless, I have some pretty big shoes to fill – a thought that's crossed my mind at least once or twice this week. For those who don’t know, Cynthia presented the highest ranked learning lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting in St. Louis. And although I’ve had the opportunity to give a handful of keynote presentations this year, somehow this feels different. So, what do we have in store for you? The official session description follows: Through real-life examples and hands-on exercises, identify opportunities to employ self-directed learning techniques at a future signature event, the planning involved in pulling off a program redesign, and lessons learned. Change your thinking about your next meeting, and gain strategies for engaging your conference attendees, resulting in more thoughtful, enthusiastic, and empowered learners and practitioners. Um, what? Okay, it’s really not as scary as that might initially lead you to believe. The content is really two-fold. First, we want to talk a bit about what self-directed learning is and why it’s important. Second, we’ll launch into a discussion identifying important planning milestones in a program redesign, as well as obstacles and solutions that should be considered in planning a similar event for your own organization. So, what is self-directed learning? That’s simple. As we mature, we naturally develop the need and capacity to be self-directed (vs. teacher-directed). Our experiences become an increasingly rich resource for learning and our natural orientation is task or problem-centered (meaning that learning experiences are best organized as problem-solving learning projects rather than as lectures or reading assignments). Likewise, we’re motivated more and more by internal incentives (so it’s important to identify a relationship between the learning activity and personal goals/objectives), and we’re increasingly more social and enjoy working collaboratively with others (both people and resources). But why is self-directed learning important? This is key. There is growing evidence that those who take initiative in learning ultimately learn more and learn better than those who don’t. The evidence also shows that these individuals learn more deeply and permanently. Furthermore, we develop problem-solving skills, acquire new knowledge and improve our leadership abilities (through practice rather than through textbook examples). Additionally, we become more thoughtful, enthusiastic, and empowered learners and practitioners. Certainly, there’s more to be said on this topic – but I think you get the idea. With the endless access to information and content available online – not to mention the countless organizations now offering education opportunities at competitive rates (even free!) – there’s a long list of continuing education providers competing for market share. The question is: How will you edge out the competition, secure member loyalty and become a provider of choice? We think the answer lies in self-directed learning. And not just to demonstrate that your association delivers cutting-edge learning opportunities or that your meetings truly do provide members value, but to meaningful train and educate the workforce – and to better prepare these individuals for the challenges they face each day in the workplace. I mentioned this learning lab has two parts. The second major task is to identify what it takes to build this type of learning experience when you return home (as opposed to falling back into old habits). Inevitably, the path of least resistance results in the traditional call for presentations approach (that is, canned sessions, the same speakers year in and year out, and an unimaginative conference agenda). On the other hand, a program redesign requires dedication, enthusiasm and drive, not to mention a bit more legwork. Following are the top three challenges we experienced last summer when planning and facilitating a self-directed conference of our own:

  1. Buy-in;
  2. Organization; and
  3. Facilitator coaching.

In addition to sharing with you the tips, tricks and takeaways that are sure to promote your success in each of these three key areas, this session will end with Q&A, as well as resources for further consideration and application. Specifically, we'll deliver a copy of the slide deck, an invitation to join a Collaborate group where Cynthia and I will prompt and moderate weekly discussion related to self-directed learning, and a list of our top 10 aha moments and lessons learned. So, my question to you is this: Has your organization experimented with self-directed learning? What did you learn from this experience? What challenges did you face? What successes did you celebrate? What changes did you see in your members? And, most importantly, what advice do you have for others interested in exploring this format?

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