Part of the Learning Maze Series.

The conferences I attend seem to have a mix of exciting events, engaging speaker, all blended with boring content and boring instructors that at times makes me want to slip under the table and take a nap.


I’m not alone in this perception. According to one study the chief complaints of all conferences in the US is Price and Content. Another survey…showed that only 2% of its 2,326 respondents find these [conferences] to be “useful and cost-effective”. Some 44% said that these conferences had “no perceptible impacts” on their research projects, programs or policies, while 26% found these conferences had been impactful, but not cost-effective. The conclusion from this data: many academic conferences are a waste of time and money.

So why do we still go and put up with this?

The fact is that attending conferences might be one of the best things you can do for your career. There is also the fear of missing out. What if your competitors go and learn something that gives them an advantage in the market. The upside is also that you can learn about industry trends, gain some new skills, and make all kinds of new connections. You can in many ways increase your knowledge capital within your group or company.
Even so I can assume that if you are a frequent conference goer you have been disappointed at some level. The most common reaction is to blame the conference organizer and the presenters.

I’ve spent a lifetime complaining about poor education experiences and I’ve come to the realization that while I may not have impact on the level or depth of instruction at a conference, I can have a tremendous impact upon my ability to wade through the pitfalls of bad instruction and learn something of value to me.

I started this realization when I research how millennials see the conference experience.
Dan Schawbel, author of the New York Times best-seller Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, wrote a white paper, “How Millennials See Meetings Differently,” he said, “Millennials are labeled as needy because they want to know ‘What’s in it for me?’ However, everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.”

The research suggests that 85% of millennials want Customize learning experiences and fun educational programs. How to make learning fun? Schawbel, suggests that meeting planners use mobile apps and gamification to heighten their experience.

I get suspicious when I hear the gamification argument for learning. It seems to defuse engagement for the purposes of active learning and places the responsibility of learning back to the design of the course or the charisma of the speaker. The fact is, creating a learning experience is an internal process as much as an external one. Why let those who organize conferences set the pace of your learning. We shouldn’t be giving away the responsibility to craft relevant learning experiences. We should own it. We should take back the ability to set a learning goal for each conference we attend. Learning at a conference is not something you should leave to chance.

As I’ve pondered the problem with boring learning events I think what is missing is sharing the instruction load of presenting, by asking attendees to set their own learning goals as part of their self-directed learning strategy. This will increase investment of the learner, channel responsibility where it belongs and empower learners to create meaningful conference experiences.

Benefits of Self-Directed Learning

Whether you are looking to learn something at conference or webinar for your boss or for yourself, here are just a few of the benefits of self-directed learning.

  • Increase Ownership of Learning
  • Foster Metacognition
  • Develop Career Readiness Skills
  • Nurture an Appreciation for Learning

Owning your learning is a great mindset. How to own it is where learning goals come into play.


What is a Learning Goal?

Learning goals are typically for presenter or instructors in the context of a lesson, a lecture or a training course. They have a narrow focus and help the instructors define the reason for the event and how to evaluate your learning. If students set learning goals it turns this around and empowers you as a learner to set your own goals and objectives.
A learning goal is the fuel for a Learning. Most people have never set a learning goal before they attend a conference or seminar.
Here is why you should!

Psychologist and Professor Carol Dweck’s research concluded that “Learning goals trigger entirely different chains of thought and action from performance goals. A focus on performance instead of on learning and growing causes people to hold back from risk taking or exposing their self-image to ridicule by putting themselves into situations where they have to break a sweat to deliver the critical outcome.”

leaning goal table

We can petition the conference Gods for better conferences, engaging speakers and fun experiences. This of course didn’t work in High School or College and as such, I recommend that we as conferences attendees own the problem and take steps to change our mindset and plan how we are going to engage with the content and then define what and how we will learn.



The Learning Maze: A New Framework For Personalized Learning will be published soon. Learn more about it here:

the learning maze cover


Sign up here and receive Learning Frame job aids, models,  exclusive insights into the Learning Frames Systems and a free Conference Learning Tool Kit handout that will help you:

  • Reframe learning to maximize your conference experience
  • How to ask the best questions
  • How to take notes effectively
  • How to prepare for post conference discussions and sharing with coworkers and management

Before you attend your next conference take steps to ensure that you are maximizing your learning and meeting your business goals. Empower your mind by learning how to learn at a conference and how to use the best tools to make the experience more enjoyable.
Based upon the latest research in neuroscience and with decades of personal research and experience I have developed a Conference Learning Tool kit for any conference, seminar or webinar.



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