Archive for March, 2012


Adult learning principles – and what makes them relevant

Part of being an effective educator, facilitator or content leader involves understanding how adults learn best. Andragogy is a theory that holds a set of assumptions about how adults learn. Specifically, andragogy places value on the process of learning. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic or rooted in lecture, and also emphasizes more equality between the instructor and the learner.

Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in the 1950s and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970s by Malcolm Knowles (an American practitioner and theorist of adult education who defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”). Today, just about every professional development guru serving the association community has shared their spin on adult learning principles.

From a staff perspective, these principles become important when identifying qualified professional speakers or when coaching home-grown subject matter experts to deliver content in a meaningful and engaging way. For those who don’t make their career on the speaker circuit (but sometimes find themselves in front of an adult audience delivering content), knowing these basic principles provides direction when organizing, building and delivering a dynamic learning session.

Following are the six principles of adult learning as identified by Knowles (and then grounded within the context of association learning by yours truly):

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions (or when content leaders appear unprepared, inexperienced or inauthentic). To encourage more self-directed and intentional learning, as well as to foster the learner’s internal motivation to learn, content leaders should:

  • Develop interactive learning exercises that are challenging, but not overwhelming;
  • Show genuine interest in the thoughts, opinions and questions of their audience;
  • Provide feedback to learners, as appropriate, that is both constructive and specific; and
  • Support the disparity in learning styles by employing a variety of learning methods.

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. Adults like to be given the opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and apply their various life experiences to their own professional development. Therefore, content leaders should:

  • Welcome opportunities for learners to share their interests and experiences;
  • Draw correlations between past experiences and current problem-solving challenges;
  • Facilitate opportunities for reflective learning; and
  • Examine existing biases or habits that may influence future learning or skill development.

3. Adults are goal oriented. Adult learners become ready to learn when they experience a need to learn in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems. To facilitate a learner’s readiness for problem-based learning and increase his or her awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented, content leaders should:

  • Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal/professional goals;
  • Share real-life case studies that connect the dots between theory and practice; and
  • Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry and further research.

4. Adults are relevancy oriented. Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. To support learners in their quest for seeking and identifying relevancy, content leaders should:

  • Ask learners at the beginning of the learning experience what they expect to learn;
  • Check for meaning, understanding and relevance (to the context of work) throughout the learning experience;
  • Identify what skills, knowledge or expertise learners gained as a result of participating in the learning experience; and
  • Determine how learners might apply what they learned in the future (and in the context of their everyday lives).

5. Adults are practical. Through hands-on exercises and collaborative brainstorming, learners move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognize first-hand how what they are learning applies to life and the context of work. To support this transformation, content leaders should:

  • Clearly explain their rationale when presenting new ideas or innovative solutions;
  • Be explicit about how the content is useful and applicable to the learners’ work;
  • Promote active participation by allowing learners to try new things, offer suggestions or share healthy skepticism rather than simply observe; and
  • Provide ample opportunities for repetition to promote skill development, confidence and competence.

6. Adult learners like to be respected. Content leaders can demonstrate respect by:

  • Taking an active interest in the development of all learners;
  • Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the learners bring to their work;
  • Regarding learners as colleagues with unique perspectives and valuable life experience; and
  • Encouraging the expression of new ideas, reasoning and feedback at every opportunity.

So, my question to you is this: How could you leverage these adult learning principles when vetting professional speakers? What opportunities exist within your organization to better coach subject matter experts in the principles of adult learning? The next time you are called upon to serve as a content leader, how will you approach the development and delivery of your session differently?


Some like it hot: Dynamic member experiences inspired by hot yoga

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter with any regularity, you know I practice yoga just about five days a week. The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse in Grand Rapids, Mich. offers Baptiste-style power Vinyasa – and this is where I practice. It is a challenging, flowing workout that produces extraordinary results while remaining accessible to all skill levels and abilities.

Power yoga isn’t about bending you into a pretzel or forcing you to chant. It’s about challenging you to reach your fullest potential. But that’s not all. The studio is hot. Like 95 degrees hot. Like Norwegian sauna hot. Essentially, the space is regulated to maintain July temperatures all year long. The rationale is simple: Heat purifies, improves flexibility, protects from injury and torches calories.

Now, by no means am I the most athletic, the most physically fit or the most flexible person to practice yoga. I never even considered yoga until passing the studio several consecutive days last summer. Each day (weather permitting), a chalkboard easel was placed just outside the studio’s front entrance donning a short, witty phrase (today, for example, the message board read: “spring into yoga”).

After about a week, I noted the studio’s website and decided to check it out. What I found was a very welcoming community. To this day, the landing page reads: “We love beginners. You take the first step. We’ll help you take the rest.” And so I did. I’ve been practicing now—on and off—for about nine months. In that time, a number of important themes have surfaced from my practice:

  1. Acceptance. From the very first time I stepped foot into the studio, I have not only been welcomed (feeling genuinely at home and among friends), I have experienced acceptance for who I am, what I bring to my mat, what I have the ability to do (or not do) and what I have to share with my fellow yogis (a label I quietly resist given my current experience level).
  2. Growth. Each class provides a new opportunity to grow—both physically and emotionally. When I consider my progress from moment to moment, the growth is small (sometimes too small to notice). However, when I pull back and examine my growth from week to week or even from month to month, the changes in my body, my abilities and my mind are staggering.
  3. Clarity. Both on and off the mat, I find improved clarity in my thoughts. And not through chanting or meditation. The determination and discipline required each day to tune out the world for a solid 75 minutes while I focus on me, my breathing and my practice results in clearer thoughts outside of the studio relative to my life, my relationships and my work.
  4. Refinement. Type A. Enough said, right? I’m a perfectionist and I like to do things “right.” The same is true on my mat, as well. Unfortunately, forcing your body into a pose is a sure-fire way to prevent its fullest possible expression (and can even result in injury). In fact, it’s only when you settle into a pose, embrace the discomfort and focus on tiny micro movements can you recognize and deliver true refinement.
  5. Destiny. Not to sound melodramatic, but you only get out of yoga what you put into it. Sure, we have instructors and assistants to support our practice and to co-create our poses; however, a majority of the practice is left up to us—to challenge ourselves to our edge (and, sometimes, beyond); to take care of ourselves; and to apply these lessons to life outside the studio, as well.

The same is true for our members. And, no, I’m not advocating you offer early morning yoga sessions at your next conference (though I think the option is always welcome for those of us who practice or for those who are interested in taking the first step). Rather, the key takeaway here is that each and every time we develop a new program or event we create new opportunities to foster community, inspire learning, instill clarity, encourage refinement and point to what’s possible.

So, my question to you is this: How seriously do you take this responsibility? Is your organization delivering dynamic, meaningful and compelling education and networking experiences that inspire learning, engagement and community (or is it more about the bottom line)? If the latter, what small changes could you implement throughout the planning process to ensure a better and more deliberate outcome for your members?


Achieve more: Professional development consultations to the rescue

It’s certainly no secret that the professional development landscape is changing. If you have any doubts, take a look at my Feb. 29 post titled, “The professional development trifecta: Competition, strategy and experience.”

There I break down the impact technology is having on the sheer volume of continuing education programs being offered today, the importance of education research in the development of quality learning and networking events, and the expertise required to pull off truly dynamic member experiences that draw upon innovative programming models and contemporary adult learning principles.

As part of a new, ongoing series I’m calling “Achieve More,” I will profile each month a unique strategy guaranteed to breathe new life into some aspect of your organization’s professional development efforts.

To kick-off this series, I’d like to address the benefits of a professional development consultation. Each and every day, someone, somewhere is planning an educational program or special networking event for association members. The very first step in the planning process generally includes a look back at the previous year’s records, including timeline, financials, communications and the like (assuming this is a repeat event).

Depending on the amount of available planning time and resources; the foresight to identify member needs through industry research, analysis and trending; the interest of volunteer leaders to take an active role in the establishment of program goals and objectives; and, finally, the organization’s own staffing, infrastructure and expertise, stage two varies considerably.

And, without a doubt, it’s this next step that determines the fate of an entire event.

Consider, for a moment, the old adage: “You only get out of something what you put into it.” Or, more succinct (and a bit crasser): “Garbage in, garbage out.” Primarily used to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data (“garbage in”) and produce nonsensical output (“garbage out”), this phrase is equally applicable to programs and events.

Churn and burn the same processes, meet with the same cohort of volunteer leaders, book the same venues, call upon the same speakers, partner with the same vendors (the violations are endless). Know what you’ll get on the other side? The same exact member experiences you’ve been turning out for the last several years (and, in some cases, even longer than that).

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with building upon a successful learning format or booking a multi-year contract with a great hotel to save a bit of money for both you and your members, but the line must be drawn somewhere. Just because your members come back year after year doesn’t mean:

  1. Your educational program inspires learning, engagement and community (the ultimate goal);
  2. Your members will continue to come given the introduction of a next best alternative; and
  3. Your organization is meeting its fullest potential (for both attendance and revenue).

Now, I’m not jaded enough to think that meeting professionals and professional development staff around the world are intentionally taking the easy way out. Quite the contrary. I’m intimately aware of the limited resources with which many education departments are faced. However, this isn’t a valid excuse.

Enter professional development consultants.

“Quick-fix” consultations (limited in scope and, believe it or not, overall investment) can have a sizable impact on jump-starting your planning efforts and providing new, innovative perspectives on what is possible. Consultations with a knowledgeable professional development expert can range from half-day to full-day sessions (or longer, depending on your organization’s needs) and may focus on:

  1. Framing an upcoming program or event to make it unique and memorable (think innovative programming models here); or
  2. Coaching staff to host a meaningful volunteer leader committee meeting intended to capture new ideas or identify member needs; or
  3. Developing strategies to better support your speakers, transforming your organization’s subject matter experts into effective instructional designers.

The opportunities are endless. But in every instance, actionable recommendations should be provided by the consultant via a written report or executive summary to focus and refine your planning efforts long after the consultation has ended.

So, my question to you is this: What elements of your next signature program (or new 2012 event) could be reimagined? What effect would some coaching and advance preparation have on the effectiveness of your organization’s next education committee meeting? How would some targeted speaker preparation (e.g., dissemination of venue or session logistics, training or tips for better presentations) impact the experience of both your subject matter experts and program participants?

For more information about my professional development consulting firm Event Garde, download our promotional brochure, visit the website or like us on Facebook. A personal, fun and completely free conversation will also enable us to discuss how I can best contribute (via consultation or other strategy) to the success of your organization’s professional development efforts. Together, we can achieve more.


Through the maze: Careers in association management

As vice chair and then chair of the ASAE Young Association Executives Committee, I worked diligently with young/emerging professional leaders nationwide in the development of a book proposal – tentatively titled, Young Association Executive Survival Guide: What every young professional should know about the association community – focused on issues and challenges facing this important demographic.

The book was intended to reach a broad audience, including high school guidance counselors, college/university academic advisors, young/emerging association professionals and those industry veterans interested in learning more about the next generation of employees and volunteer leaders destined to shake up the association community as we know it.

After a fairly significant period of brainstorming relevant topics, organizing them into meaningful chapters and, subsequently, sections, a comprehensive book proposal was drafted. This proposal was then discussed with and pitched to ASAE staff on a variety of occasions. Ultimately, the book was not picked up, but in its place a four-part monograph series was commissioned.

Monograph one, written by four graduates of the inaugural class of ASAE’s Leadership Academy, is titled Through the maze: Careers in association management. Together, Benjamin Butz, Beau Ballinger, Jennifer Connelly and Emily Crespo – with the support and mentoring of Elizabeth Engel – provide a comprehensive introduction to the field of association management, an understanding of why millennials are needed in the association world, the different roles in association management and profiles of association management professionals.

With regard to this document, I have three simple recommendations:

  1. Read it. Commit this week to reading this document. I think you’ll find the format to be approachable, the content to be straightforward and the insights to be thoughtful. Not to mention, I think it’s fun (and fresh!) to see your profession through a different set of eyes (in this case, four authors, one mentor and eight profiles makes thirteen sets of eyes).
  2. Share it. Forward this document to your friends, colleagues, staff, members, board members and other volunteer leaders. Post it to your website, share it via your social media channels and include it in an upcoming e-newsletter. Even these small steps will help spread the word about the remarkable profession we call association management.
  3. Modify it. Create a similar document highlighting your own profession/organization. Consider commissioning volunteer leaders, subject matter experts and even your own staff and board of directors to generate a monograph orienting young/emerging leaders to your field and it’s various career opportunities.

As previously mentioned, this document is only the beginning of a four-part series. Monograph two will dispel a variety of myths, addressing topics related to “what I wish I would have known given the chance to do it over again.” Monograph three will tackle “navigating the work place,” including advice related to climbing the career ladder. And monograph four will approach what it means to “move beyond the workplace,” considering next steps for developing your professional network and refining your personal brand.

So, my question to you is this: How does your organization promote industry-related career opportunities to high school/college students, as well as young/emerging professionals? What other creative, unique and innovative ways can you use this monograph within your own organization?

For more information about young/emerging professional issues and interests, “like” ASAE Young Professionals on Facebook.

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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