Saturday, October 13, 2018
A Year for Learning
After kicking off 2018 with my now-traditional jaunt to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, three different genealogical conferences have filled my year so far. One was a must-attend event on my annual list: the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree at the end of May. This year, I added two new entries to my year of learning. Taking my role as president of our local genealogical society seriously, I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference this past August in hopes of picking up organizational development pointers. And because I need to challenge myself a little more, I added a trip to Kansas City last weekend to become a first-time attendee at the Association of Professional Genealogists' Professional Management Conference.
Each learning opportunity spoke to a different side of my genealogical pursuits. And each event spoke with a different voice. I find I need that variety to assure my learning opportunities cover all the bases in my need to know.
After several years of attending traditional-format conferences, I've become weary of the business-as-usual learning style at traditional conferences. The talking head presenting in front of rows of passive observers is an efficient model for only those people who have exactly the same learning needs. Once a learner has already picked up the basics on a given introductory topic—say, how to use the U.S. Census records—the urge to return for more fades. That is the prime reason I shifted my learning venues to the institute model: a whole week devoted to delving deeply into one specific topic.
The call of the promising conference format still beckons, though. There is something so serious about week-long learning that stops networking and social interaction dead in its tracks, and I find there is still a place for the shorter intervals of conference learning rhythms. So I ventured back this year, under cover of those supposed excuses: "I'm representing my society" or "I'm open to professional growth." What I really wanted was another chance to connect with people in ways that lead to productive partnerships. Maybe we're just too serious at institute learning venues to really reach out and touch those other learners' ships passing in the night.
That led me to the FGS conference, where, dismayed to see I had already either heard several of the speakers or their topics presented before, I spent almost the whole time networking with fellow attendees in the hallways, in the exhibit hall, or in the back of the room after class sessions finished. What I came home with far exceeded what I could have accomplished if I had just forced myself to sit through more of the same classes; with the exception of the first, society-focused day, FGS was like almost any other genealogy conference.
Stretching me in the other direction, my experience last weekend in Kansas City introduced me to a peer-to-peer model of presentation, with chances to learn from others not only through official class sessions, but through discussions during the breaks and, in one case, well into the evening. The topics presented were a lively mix of business perspectives, genealogical standards, and innovative applications. Speakers were far more accessible for after-session discussions, proving invaluable.
Since I teach, I am constantly on the lookout for innovative approaches to working with the adult learner. That became not only the topic covered during the sessions I chose to attend in this most recent conference, but the theme of discussions sparked by those learning events. It's hard to balance the responsibility to convey information to those who've come to our classes with the desire to find new ways to transmit that message. Audiences hardly wish to pay for failed experiments, yet yearn for a way of learning that goes beyond the disappointments they experience after enduring those time-worn training sessions—those classes which fail to bring them back for more, or even to lead them to apply what they've heard.
I'm still on the search for instructional techniques to apply to my classes—and would be overjoyed to see such ideas employed during those traditional genealogical conferences (which now only seem to bring back attendees as long as they are beginners). Kudos to the conference planners at APG for daring to experiment with different presentation formats—like the scheduled discussion groups and "poster sessions"—and for the speakers who dared to break ranks and infuse some class participation into what otherwise would have been straight lecture time, hour after hour.
If we hope to reach generations accustomed to a more participatory style, we need to be brave enough to break the lecture-only mold and dare to enter the learning worlds of connective, collaborative effort.
For 2019, anyone?