There’s no question that public education in the US has plenty of issues. However, I’m not writing to solve any of them, nor am I writing to take a specific stance on policy issues. I’m writing because one educational innovator has already made a massive leap toward remedying these challenges, and the approach carries big potential to transform adult learning environments at face-to-face meetings, too.
At Convening Leaders 2014 in Boston, Salman Khan, founder and executive director of the Khan Academy, challenged attendees to think about the shortfalls of traditional education in his keynote address. Khan’s online learning tools have been used by more than 150,000 teachers in more than 200 countries. The Khan Academy website welcomes more than 10 million unique monthly users. Its founder attributes all that traffic to one fairly simple reason.
“The Internet gives you a nonjudgmental teacher,” Khan said.
“Students can learn at their own pace on their own time,” Khan added. “There’s the ability to pause and repeat.”
That’s an important distinction in any environment where multiple minds are attempting to grasp challenging concepts in mathematics and science. Inevitably, there will be gaps between students. Some will learn more quickly while others will need to hear the same instructions over and over again. In today’s educational system, the latter segment tend to be those who are tracked into remedial courses. Khan says his style of education addresses this problem by functioning more like a video gap. Master one level; move on to the next.
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Understanding how to close this learning gap is equally critical for designing adult educational sessions in conferences. For example, consider one of the sessions I attended while I was in Boston. The moderator used the mobile app to gain a sense of the audience in the room before beginning the panel. A large portion responded that they had been in the meetings industry for more than 10 years, but another large segment of the room had less than three years of experience.
Seven years is a huge difference in knowledge and expertise. Imagine attempting to have a productive conversation between fifth graders and seniors in high school. While the gap in professional experience is obviously less dramatic, the argument remains the same. It can make certain attendees in the room feel like they might be behind the rest of the “class.” The result? Unasked questions due to fear of sounding naive or dumb. Confused attendees who leave the session without any clarification. Audience members who disengage because the pace is not for them. Sure, you may be dealing with adults, but the feeling of embarrassment or being the slow kid in the room never disappears — no matter how old we are.
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When virtual education first started to take hold, plenty of meeting industry veterans worried that virtual tools represented a serious threat to face-to-face learning. Khan’s keynote presented virtual learning in a new light. Rather than an alternative or replacement to face-to-face, Khan’s approach provides support for one of the primary goals of everyone in the meetings industry: to make face-to-face more productive.
“If lecture can happen online, what can you do with the physical classroom?” Khan asked.
“You can do much more,” he declared.
Consider the education you’ll be offering at your next meeting. How much more could your attendees take away from the program if they had the chance to digest and review the lesson plan before arriving on-site? How much more could all of those attendees accomplish together by discussing potential solutions instead of listening to a lecture about problems?