Posts Tagged ‘Learning


A look back at 2015


IHS group

From left to right: Jenny Hill, Aaron Wolowiec and Cally Hill

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time for us at Event Garde to reflect on the many things for which we’re thankful.

From education to content creation, we’ve had a successful year and have experienced tremendous growth.

And we owe much of that to you. Thank you for trusting us to help you learn, network and transfer differently. (See more on this below).

This year end report is just a smattering of the successes we’ve achieved. It’s hard to quantify those day-to-day “ah-ha” moments, but we hope you enjoy this glance at our 2015.

We look forward to spending 2016 with you, and can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Here’s a look at 2015:

communication_strategy_01Marketing and Communications

In September, Event Garde held a marketing and communications retreat in which we discussed our communications strategy and marketing goals. With so many moving parts and pieces throughout the last year, it was time to reflect on our brand.

So we asked ourselves: What have we become? How are we different from our competitors?

Thus the birth of our new tagline: Learn. Network. Transfer.

Learn – We are educators and we are educated. As responsible contributors to our industry, we participate in professional development while also planning it.

Network – We plan events and programs with an emphasis on providing networking environments and opportunities for program attendees and participants. And individually, we belong to networks and organizations that enhance our personal and professional goals.

Transfer – We realize the needs and wants of an industry that experiences ups and downs and use our collective and individual experiences and knowledge to foster performance improvement.

As for personality, here’s a list of words we think describes us:

  • Authentic
  • Capacity-building
  • Client-oriented
  • Detailed
  • Knowledge-seeking
  • Leading-edge
  • Tenacious

Next month, we’ll be discussing how to implement our marketing and communications plan. So stay tuned.

airplane wing

A view from one of Aaron’s many flights

Speaking engagements

This year, Aaron spent many hours on an airplane for speaking engagements. From Atlanta to Florida to Michigan, Aaron spoke at 25 events on a range of topics. Audience size varied from three to 144, but in total, Aaron spoke to more than 1,200 people. Some of the topics: learning/how the brain learns; how to improve conferences and events; and membership.

And here’s what some people had to say:

“Aaron is knowledgeable and engaging.”

“This is the first webinar I actually paid attention to throughout the whole hour.”

“Very engaging, personable, knowledgeable, understood his market, well prepared, very good at herding cats, great content, well-presented. Kept us engaged and moving.”

EG relay for life team

The Event Garde Relay for Life team

Professional development and community engagement

As stated above, we’re lifelong learners, so the staff of Event Garde attended 28 professional development sessions this year, with topics ranging from instructional design to volunteer training to conference presentations.

At the same time, we value the communities in which we live, work and play. And we understand the importance of giving back. So again this year, Event Garde sponsored a Relay for Life team, walking 24 hours around the track at East Lansing High School in recognition of those fighting cancer, in honor of those who’ve triumphed and in remembrance of those who’ve lost their battles.


In 2015, Event Garde produced 50 blog posts. Kristen Parker contributed most of the content, but Aaron wrote posts at the beginning of each month and each month we featured guest bloggers.

On average, blog posts received about 220 views and the site averaged about 200 visitors per month. Topics of the posts varied, but the most popular seemed to be those focused on hotels – rates and room blocks, specifically.

In addition, Event Garde published a newsletter each month, with an average open rate of 600. As an education resource, each newsletter included links to stories or blog posts we found inspiring and informative. In addition, we featured “bright ideas,” in each newsletter and, of course, an Event Garde-ian of the Month.

Throughout the year, niche media publications re-printed blog posts from Kristen and Aaron, quoted Aaron as expert or included written pieces by Aaron. Key media hits include Michigan Meetings + Events, Naylor Publications, Associations Now, Biz Bash, MSAE Association Impact and TSAE Association News.

Here’s a look at some of the media hits:

Meetings and Conventions

Pure Reinvention podcast

Associations Now

Michigan Meetings & Events

new house

Aaron’s new home and Event Garde’s new headquarters

New headquarters
And finally… Event Garde got a new headquarters this year!

Aaron bought a new house in Kalamazoo, which will serve as Event Garde’s new home.


Training truths be told

Can the color of a marker really make a difference in how we learn?

Yes, according to research.

But it’s not necessarily the color. Instead, it’s choosing the color.

“Research shows that giving learners choices – even seemingly trivial ones – can improve performance,” said Stephen Meyer, president and CEO of Rapid Learning Institute. “Bottom line: Embed choices into the learning process, even if they don’t seem meaningful. It’s easy to assume these choices don’t matter, but they engage learners and cost nothing.”

He recently released an e-book, “10 Truths about Workplace Training…that just ain’t so,” which debunks myths surrounding workplace training. Such training, Meyer says, correlates with the ways in which humans learn and the ways in which our brains are wired.

Back to markers (read: choice). Meyer lists four training recommendations regarding choice: Even small choices, like choosing time and location of a training session, will produce results; allow learners to personalize their approach to training; have fun – let trainees choose the kind of candy they get as a reward; and be careful – providing too much choice will backfire.

My other favorite “myth:” Not everything you’ve learned is forever etched in your brain. Case in point: I struggle to help my eighth grader with geometry!

Meyer points to research by neuroscientists about “encoding,” in which the brain decides what’s important enough to retain. And so, when it comes to training, your pupils’ brains will decide what sticks and what doesn’t. According to researchers there are four important cues: social context, activity, connection to existing knowledge and repetition. As such, trainers should integrate these strategies into their methods and curricula.

What does this mean?

Social – Human beings are social creatures, so by creating social situations – rather than just giving lectures and presentations – people are more apt to retain information. So…try role-playing.

Active learning – Rather than expecting your participants to simply memorize and recite lists, put them through a sample exercise.

Existing knowledge – Tie new ideas into familiar concepts and language.

Repetition – While no one wants to beat a dead horse, repetition is important. So, after you teach a lesson, incorporate key messages into following lessons.

training_1The eight other truths:

  • Assessments aren’t just for scoring; they motivate people to learn.
  • Complex concepts can be taught in small bites.
  • Learners who struggle remember more.
  • Sometimes people remember and learn more by watching trainers do things incorrectly.
  • You can train people to perform – and learn – under pressure.
  • People will change their minds if you get them to see the truth. Visuals, such as charts and graphs, work well.
  • Mental rehearsal works just as well as physical performance.
  • Reinforce concepts. Don’t let learners forget.

“When it comes to learning, there are a lot of misconceptions,” Meyer said. “People have different learning styles. Not exactly. Learners are either ‘right brain’ or ‘left brain.’ Nope. We sometimes forget stuff because we only use 10 percent of our brains, right? Wrong. A mix of myth and antiquated science leads us to believe a whole lot about learning that just isn’t accurate.”

At Event Garde, we educate ourselves on how people learn so we can effectively teach. If you’ve got other research to share, please email Kristen at


Latest ruling could mean more unpaid internships

free_laborIt’s summer…and that means planning season for many of you. Perhaps that planning includes whether to hire an intern for the upcoming year. And with that comes the question: “Should we pay them?”

In September 2013, I wrote a post about the Black Swan case, in which a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying interns during the production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” (It was one of our most popular posts!)

The judge ruled the interns performed the same work duties for which others were paid and the internships didn’t provide an educational environment, but instead benefited the studio.

Now, just two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has thrown a boon to employers – but a blow to interns.

On July 2, it ruled the Federal District Court in the Black Swan case used an incorrect standard – one set by the Department of Labor – to define an internship, declaring that as long as work serves an educational purpose, it can considered an internship – paid or unpaid. Using this test, a person is an employee only if the employer benefits more from the relationship than the intern.

Cutting through the legalese: This could make unpaid internships much easier to justify, and could lead to a surge of them in the workforce.

It’s a touchy conversation among millennials, most of whom expect to get paid for their services. As I wrote in the post two years ago, interns are no longer the “coffee getters” and “copy makers.” Most employers consider interns valuable team members and delegate professional responsibilities to them – many of the same responsibilities for which employees receive compensation.

But the argument remains: Does professional experience outweigh money?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers issued a statement on July 2 in response to the U.S. District Court’s ruling, saying, “At the foundation of such an assessment is the tenet that the internship is a legitimate learning experience benefiting the student and not simply an operational work experience that just happens to be conducted by a student. The core question, according to NACE, is whether or not work performed by an intern will primarily benefit the employer in a way that does not also advance the education of the student.”

Internships-resize200dpi2As further explanation, NACE developed criteria that employers can use to determine which experiences can legitimately be classified as internships:

  • The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
  • The experience has a defined beginning and end and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
  • There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
  • There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.
  • There are resources, equipment and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.
  • Unpaid internships in the not-for-profit sector reflect the fiscal realities and limitations for organizations in that sector and are acknowledged accordingly in current Department of Labor guidelines and enforcement practices.
  • All interns, regardless of their compensation, should enjoy similar basic protections in the work setting consistent with all laws, ethical considerations and sound business practices.

At the same time, NACE’s 2015 Internship & Co-op Survey found the current overall average hourly rate for bachelor’s degree-level interns, adjusted for inflation to 2010 levels, is $15.98. In comparison, the average hourly rate for interns was $17 in 2010.

While associations and nonprofits may not be first of mind for interns, they offer valuable experiential learning experiences, wrote Todd Van Deak, president and founder of Philadelphia-based TVD Associates, in an October 2013 Event Garde post.

So it’s important to consider how your organization could enhance interns’ educational experiences.

As a follow up, tell us…do you pay your interns? Why or why not?


If companies build (capability), greatness will come

approach-buildingWe all know professional development is important. To thrive, companies need to have highly skilled and knowledgeable employees.

So the WHY is covered. But the HOW….that’s a different story. Although companies’ PD needs have increased, most seem to be pursuing the same traditional methods – and many are getting less bang for their bucks.

According to a recent survey by McKinsey and Co., a global management consulting firm, companies are struggling with the best way to build capabilities. (Institutional capabilities are all skills, processes, tools and systems that an organization uses as a whole to drive meaningful business results. Individual capabilities refer to training, learning or specific skills.)

In the study, companies cited customer demand and strategic importance as the top reasons for building capabilities. McKinsey and Co. says executives most often identify skills in strategy, operations and marketing and sales as most important for business performance, focusing efforts mostly on frontline employees.

Despite recent technological advances and the advent of e-learning, on-the-job training is still the No. 1 vehicle companies use to better their workforces. And while experts have proven that informal or formal coaching is an effective PD tool, only 33 percent of respondents engage in mentorship. And even fewer companies use methods such as experiential learning or digital (mobile exercises or group-based online learning).

“These leading-edge training methods could enable all organizations to replicate or scale up their learning programs quickly and cost-effectively across multiple locations,” the authors wrote. “But currently, companies tend to plan and execute large-scale learning programs with a train-the-trainer approach or with help from external providers to roll out their programs.”

mentorAt the same time, executives reported struggling with how to measure the ROI of capabilities building. At least according to the McKinsey and Co. report, companies lack a clear vision for how to link capability building to the overall business. They also indicate a lack of resources for developing programs and implementing efforts. More than half the survey respondents said they’re not sure if their capability-building programs have met their targets – or whether such targets exist.

And so….what does this all mean?

McKinsey and Co. offers some tips:

  • Diagnose systematically. Companies are best able to build strong capabilities when they systematically identify the capabilities, both institutional and individual, that can have the most positive impact on the business. Objective assessments are an important tool in this process — and few respondents say their companies use such assessments now. These diagnostics not only help companies assess their skill gaps relative to industry peers but also help them quantify the potential financial impact of addressing capability gaps.
  • Design and deliver learning to address individual needs. The core principles of adult learning require that companies tailor their learning programs to employees’ specific strengths and needs, rather than developing a one-size-fits-all program for everyone. The most effective approach to adult learning is blended — that is, complementing in-class learning with real work situations and other interventions, such as coaching.
  • Align with and link to business performance. To be effective and sustainable, capability building can’t happen in a vacuum. Learning objectives must align with strategic business interests, and, ideally, capability building should be a strategic priority in and of itself. Making human resources functions and individual business units co-owners of skill-building responsibilities and then integrating learning results into performance management are effective steps toward achieving this alignment.

What do you think? Have your PD efforts led to better company and/or individual performance?


MOOCs: A myth for the masses? Not so much

MOOC infographic

An infographic by summarizing MOOCs.

Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOCs – seem to be all the rage. And why not, when learning is just a click away?

MOOCs are online classes that are available to anyone with a computer and/or Internet access. Some MOOCs are free, but others aren’t. It’s a bit confusing as MOOCs are still trying to find their place among social media, 24-7 access to news and a society that thrives on convenience.

It seems higher education has embraced MOOCs as a way to foster global education, but what about other industries?

According to, 4.7 million people participate in MOOCs through Coursera. But only 8 to 10 percent of those enrolled actually complete the class. So is it worth it?

It’s a constant source of debate, which may explain why associations have been reluctant to enter the MOOC market.

Tagoras recently released a whitepaper on fringe trends, and MOOCs were included in the report. “Fringe” refers to the fact that based on Tagoras’ research, only 10 percent of participants have adopted burgeoning trends.

“MOOCs aren’t just disrupting how training is delivered; they are changing how companies interact with their employees and others on a much grander scale,” said Bryant Nielsen, founder of corporate training firm Your Training Edge.

Throughout the last few weeks, Nielsen has written about 13 megatrends of MOOCs. Perhaps most relevant to associations is lifelong learning.

“One of the biggest impacts MOOCs have had is to make education available to people of all ages,” Nielsen said. “As a result, lifelong learning has become one of the biggest trends in recent years: In their spare time, people who once might have flipped on the television are now booting up their computers to learn and accessing learning resources on their mobile devices whenever they have a few minutes of downtime. Companies can capitalize on this lifelong learning trend both by offering engaging courses to the public and by recognizing their employees’ independent learning endeavors.”

But how does an association know if a MOOC is a right fit?

The key is to decide what it wants to accomplish, Tagoras says.

online-educationThe massive nature of MOOCs makes them incredible marketing tools. A MOOC can establish an association as an expert in a topic or field, while also turning curious learners into members. But a word of caution: As with anything new, there’s risk. Associations are often leery about giving away their content for free, but that’s the name of the game when it comes to MOOCs.

The key to creating successful MOOCs, according to Tagoras, is to make content general – to appeal to the masses. While it’s a good idea to showcase your best experts, a MOOC may not be the best option for a specific professional development topic.

In addition, MOOCs probably aren’t going to generate revenue, at least not at first. So it’s best to think of a MOOC as a long-term investment. Rather than making money, an association can build upon a brand while creating ambassadors, who will eventually help recruit members.

Finally, associations need to remember that completion of a MOOC isn’t a sign of its success, Tagoras says. Instead, associations should focus on the takeaways participants get from a MOOC and on the importance of educating the masses.

“While only 6.6 percent of respondents offer MOOCs and only 4.6 percent more plan to begin offering MOOCs in the next year, according to the survey behind our 2014 Association Learning + Technology report, we’re excited about the massive models enabled by MOOCs and expect more associations to embrace it in the coming years, as they realize the ready-built audience of their profession or industry could benefit from a MOOC offering,” Tagoras says.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MOOCs. You’ll continue to hear about them as more people embrace online learning, and as such, I’ll be doing a couple follow-up posts.

So if your organization offers a MOOC, please contact me. Or if you’re an expert on the subject, please reach out. Have you ever participated in a MOOC? Tell us about it.


Life goes on…and so does learning

AlbertEinstein-001As some of you may know, in addition to my role with Event Garde, I work for Michigan State University’s central communications office. I love working with students. They’re brilliant. They’re ambitious. They’re overachievers. And some of them are old, well, older.

I’m amazed by the nontraditional students I encounter on campus. Some are undergrads and some are grad students. And others are lifelong learners. MSU, like many universities around the country, offers lifelong learning credits. In fact, I took my first graduate class as a lifelong learner because it was so much cheaper.

Lifelong learning seems to be on the upswing as curious minds look for answers. But sometimes, universities don’t fit the bill, which is where associations should step in.

“With the short- and long-term value of traditional degrees increasingly in question, the number of people looking for alternatives will grow,” said Jeff Cobb, co-founder of the consulting firm Tagoras. “As a result, certification programs, assessment-based certificate programs, digital badging and competency-based education are likely to be areas of significant growth for continuing education and professional development providers.”

Why? Globalization.

Even mom-and-pop businesses are dabbling in international business. It’s safe to say that in today’s global economy, employers require skills that go beyond a degree. They want trend-savvy employees, so professional development is a must.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

And so, Cobb said, associations should beef up their education staffs. Cobb recommends hiring in-house subject matter experts to address increasingly complicated global issues. Their specialized industry knowledge and stakeholder connections are invaluable to creating lifelong learning materials. Remember this as your association competes with cheap, easy-to-find educational resources a la the web.

That said, associations should capitalize on technology, not shy away from it. For example, if an association offers online certification, it can easily incorporate a YouTube video or podcast. Crowdsourcing is also key. Associations should provide a platform to allow their members to share virtual resources.

At the same time, technology provides incredible tools to measure the effectiveness of your association’s lifelong learning opportunities.

“A variety of tools – from web and social media analytics to e-mail statistics to low-cost feedback systems like iPerceptions – can be used to extend and strengthen traditional, less agile market research methods,” Cobb said. “Organizations need to get more adept at using these tools, testing new ideas quickly and moving to full implementation with decisiveness.”

Tagoras has produced a list of tips for associations that want to compete in a global market for continuing education and professional development.

Simply put: Learning doesn’t stop after high school or college. And your association can easily meet the demand.

So now I’m wondering, where do Massive Open Online Courses fit into this equation? If you know of an expert on MOOCs, or if your association uses MOOCs, please contact me. I’d like to write about this in the near future.

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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