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Participating in conferences and workshops: What will I learn?

When attending classes, conference and workshops, attendees may have unrealistic expectations of what they will gain, or how they will learn useful information. Expert Peter Walen offers some tips on how to actively participate in the learning process and make the most of educational opportunities.

I am planning on being in this conference track session, and then in a workshop. What am I going to learn there?

I can’t tell you what you are going to learn. No speaker, presenter or instructor can tell you that. No teacher in school or professor in college or university can tell you that. What they can tell you is the information they will present, ways it can be if interest or at least of use to you, and ideas on how to actually use that information.

I can tell you that I have found that most people who not only attend a conference track, workshop or some other class or training, but actually participate and get engaged in the activities, tend to learn more than those who wait for things to be handed to them. They certainly learn more than those who surf the web or get drawn into work email or personal email.

There is something really hard about this. If you are looking for the “right way” to do something in a class or conference, there may not be a single “right” way. There may be many ways that will get you to a successful outcome. If you are looking for a template you get from a conference to solve the problems you need a solution to or possibly you hope to use it to solve larger problems at work, I have found this to not be a reliable, or even likely, outcome.

The reason for this is quite simple: For there to be a template to drop into place, someone must have encountered that problem in that environment before and then told people about it. I believe most people who work through a thorny problem believe theirs is a unique situation, a “one-off” that will have little or no value to anyone else. Thus, there may be a previous solution; however, we may not be able to research it, and we must focus on discovering it ourselves.

No teacher or instructor can have absolute certainty of what students or participants will learn. They can present the material the best they know how. If there are questions or uncertainties in the ideas and solutions offered, ask questions. If you do not feel comfortable asking in front of other participants, approach the presenter after the session. Explain your questions, or at the least, set a time when you can meet to talk about them. 

Most presenters, instructors and conference speakers, including me, relish the moments when someone comes forward with questions. These are fantastic learning opportunities for all parties. What will be learned from them? I don’t know. You, however, can try it and let me know. Would you be so kind as to do so?

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