Last week I got to go to the Celebration of Biblical Preaching (#cpb2013), an annual conference at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Over the next three days I’ll be reflecting on three major take-aways; things that are still resonating with me a week later. Here are take-aways #1 and #2. But for today:
Take-away #3: Designing a conference (a learning experience) needs to start backwards from the moment you leave the conference, not from the beginning when you book speakers months in advance.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but being a conference go-er since 2009 (so much experience, yup, that’s me); it’s gotten me thinking about how even for me, an extrovert, conferences are overwhelming. Meeting people back-to-back, going to workshops/classes back-to-back, learning constantly for 3-6 days – overwhelming. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go to conferences for introverts. The feeling of being overwhelmed (or getting distracted with normal life/school/work patterns) can make me forget why I was there in the first place: to learn about a specific topic from big ideas and other learners.
I took a Kairos class (continuing education) at Luther Seminary about backwards-design for learning experiences, prompted by my dear colleague, Siri Erickson. Basically, the class was about planning and designing Sunday School classes for adults that don’t suck.
Backwards design is a concept in human-centered design (all over the map in information systems, technology, education, healthcare etc.). Backwards design starts at the end, “What do I want students/learners to walk away with?” instead of the beginning, “What topic and speakers should we use that people would like?” I don’t know the specifics about planning conferences, but I know this would dramatically change how any given conference could be designed and played out.
On the last day of the conference I found myself resonating with a comment a guy in the crowd made at the end of a workshop about using and encouraging people to use social media in worship. Never got his name, but I Facebook-messaged a conference organizer if we could all connect somehow as a large-group and share what we learned the most from an idea or a person to keep connecting and keep learning long after the conference was done. I don’t fault the organizers because I asked literally minutes before the conference ended!
But it got me thinking about the difference backwards design could make to learning experiences, whether it’s a class, a workshop, a Sunday School 4-week learning experience for adults, a whole higher-education curriculum, a educational degree, or a whole conference.
For more on backwards design and design learning, check out this blog of Ryan Torma’s, my instructor for that class.