When I agreed to join as co-director of the Learning & Development Accelerator, I’d already attended their first two conferences. Those had been designed to reflect the circumstances at the time, e.g. the pandemic. In addition, there was a desire on the part of Matt Richter & Will Thalheimer (the original directors) to reflect certain values. Matt and I are running the event again, but times have changed. That means we have to rethink what’s being done. So here’s my thinking about designing a conference.
First, the values Matt and Will started with included being as global as possible, and being virtual. The former was reflected in having presentations given twice, once early in the US day, and then again later. That supported everything from Europe, Africa, and the Mideast to Asia and Australia. The virtual was, at least partly, a reaction to the lack of desire to travel and meet face to face, but also to provide options for those who might struggle.
We’re definitely still focusing on being virtual. Folks who would find it challenging to arrange travel for whatever reason can attend this event. There’s also the environmental considerations. Yes, technology requires resources, but not as much as collective travel. While there’s also a desire to meet different time needs, we’ve found less demand for multiple times. However, we will be recording sessions that are synchronous, so they can be viewed at convenient times. We also are spreading it over six weeks, so that there’s time to consume as much as you want. Further, faculty can choose when they’re offering ;).
The original design was focused on evidence-based L&D (which remains a key guiding principle for the LDA). Matt & Will solicited their presenters based upon their representation, but the agenda was largely what those folks wanted to present. Which, in many ways, reflects what other conferences do. In this new era, we wondered what would make a compelling proposition when you can travel to F2F events. We decided that we wanted to step away from ‘what we get’, and focus on ‘what the audience needs’.
This event, then, has a curriculum, across two tracks, designed to address specific needs. There’s also a different pedagogy than most conferences.We also have specific faculty, rather than presenters based upon submissions. Of course, there are tradeoffs. At least we can share our thinking.
The faculty are folks we know and trust to present evidence-based content. You won’t hear promotion for snake oil, like learning styles. We have a pretty impressive lineup, frankly, of people we think are world-class. This includes folks like Ruth Clark, Mirjam Neelen & Paul Kirschner, Karl Kapp, Julie Dirksen, Kat Koppett, Stella Lee, Nigel Paine, Will Thalheimer, and Thiagi. On top of, of course, Matt and myself. Reality means that a few folks we would’ve liked to have couldn’t commit, but this is a a broad and reputable group.
The tracks are basics and advanced. We want to be able to serve multiple audiences. The intent is that the basic track has the core knowledge an L&D person should know. As best we can, as we negotiate with the faculty, of course. Then, the advanced topics are things that are emergent and need addressing. Of course, there’s no commitment that you have to stay in one or another. As with other conferences, you can pick and choose what to view.
We’re also not just having presentations; we’ve asked the faculty to provide development. That is, we’re intending several rounds of content, activity, and feedback, spread out over several days or weeks. We don’t want people to hear good ideas, and maybe take them back. We want folks to take action! We’re also designing in the opportunity for mentoring.
Of course, there’ll be some social events, and other ways to not only hear content and apply it, but to mingle with faculty and other attendees. We want to foster some community. Also, we’re intending to somewhat front load stuff so that we can adapt. If we hear that we need to do something we haven’t planned, we’re looking to have leeway to address it. The nice thing about being small is the ability to be flexible!
None of this is saying you don’t get much of the same from conferences (except, perhaps, the design). I’ve been on conference program committees, and know conference organizers as well. They typically get more proposals than they can accept, so they can choose a suite that reflect things for various ranges of experience and cover important topics. They may not, however, know all the submitters, and take chances on a few. I laud that, actually, because we can’t know if a new approach or person is worthwhile without experimentation. Still, there is the chance for gaps, and for bad presentations/presenters. They’re also, except for the pre-conference workshops (e.g. my Make It Meaningful one at the upcoming DevLearn), one-off events.
We’re taking a chance on our format, too. We haven’t done it before. It may not work, though we have good reasons to believe it will. So, we hope to see you at the Learning & Development Conference, Oct 10 – Nov 18, if the above thinking about designing a conference sense. We think it does, we hope you do, too.