Friday, June 3, 2016

Learning Outcomes

Well into the conference proceedings at this year's Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, I'm realizing one thing: sometimes the course outlines read a whole lot differently, coming out of a class session than they seemed to read, going in.

How can this be? Granted, I can impartially admit that, well, yes, that description could have been interpreted that way. But since I didn't give it that spin, I want to know why. Should I be taking a pre-conference course on how to interpret course descriptions?

Admittedly, I appreciated and enjoyed each session I attended at the conference's genetic genealogy day. That, however, is not one and the same as saying I got what I came for. Course descriptions are, apparently, very much in the eye of the beholder.

Take, for instance, this description for a session on group projects:
Learn what projects are and how they can benefit your individual research. This talk will cover the types of projects available, discuss the benefits of participating in various projects, and explore what you should and should not expect from your project.

Did the speaker deliver on her project? Yes. Did I get what I came for? No. Why not? Because I made the mistake of putting my own spin on the course goal. I want to start a DNA group project of my own, and thought this session would provide some tips on prerequisites for starting up a group project. Tactical error.

I managed to make that mistake again, later in the day. Somehow, I thought my personal goals or learning agenda could be morphed into the course description.

Granted, there were several other sessions during the day providing ample instruction that was useful. But when I caught myself making that same error in later classes, it made me remember my college classes on communications.

Communications can be such a fragile process. We may think we know what we are saying, but that doesn't always mean that is what is actually said. Furthermore, it is no guarantee that that is what our listener hears, nor what he or she even thinks that means.

It may be a smart move, in drawing up conference course descriptions, to borrow from the lingo of educators and include a one-sentence wrap up, and call it "learning outcomes." Or "course goal." Or use that teacher talk and explain, "At the end of this session, participants will be able to...."

For those of us needing simple explanations, this may be a boon to our conference-going existence.


  1. I can only imagine your frustration, be sure to pass a hand written note to those instructors:)

    1. The Jamboree organizers have thought of everything, Far Side, including facilitating getting feedback to speakers via evaluation forms. Still...I have one other possibility up my sleeve, which I'll discuss in tomorrow's post.

  2. Did I get what I came for is a question, I believe, we should keep asking. Sometime though we are surprised and learn something we didn't expect. That is well and good, but also we don't want to get too distracted.

    1. Both those options can turn out to be just fine, Grant. Your second point is great. That's the bonus point: learning something we didn't expect to learn when we came to the event. And keeping on asking the questions we need answered is just something we can't shy away from.

      Fortunately, the Jamboree venue is just the right size: large enough to attract great speakers, but small enough to enable attendees to reach out to speakers for one on one learning moments. Believe me, I did take that opportunity, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome, as you'll find out in tomorrow's post.

  3. English is a language that seems to be anti-communication - or it is at least without a lot of expended effort and actively avoiding words that have 20+ definitions. Just seeing a work like "project" in a description more than twice should be a red-flag in the future!

    1. It's also a warning for me to slow down and read more carefully :)

      Language will always have its pitfalls. Thankfully, we can usually rewind and reset the conversation as needed. In this case, Take Two had a much better outcome.


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