Sunday, May 08, 2011

90 minute institute and conference sessions

When I worked with SLIG, several instructors asked for 90 rather than 60 minute sessions. While the suggestion was not approved by the UGA Board, I've thought about the impact a longer class session might have on the learning process. Last week a friend posted a link on FB about how our brain works and rethinking how we conference. I lost the link but another friend Tamura Jones found the online article for Ol' Myrt here:

Rethinking how we 'conference'
How to design a conference with the brain in mind

Dr. Rock feels that the current paradigm of conference attendees sitting through a 60 minute lecture, followed by a quick break is counter-productive to the learning process.  I've attended conferences, where by the end of the day my brain was mush, so I could relate to Dr. Rock's comments.

He writes "For conference organizers (of which I am one), there is a conflict between wanting to fill seats (which requires having a large number of presenters and topics covered), and wanting to create the best possible experience for participants (which requires something else entirely)."

Typical 60 minutes sessions with the 10 minute questions and answers period doesn't permit our brains to digest the info presented.

Change to a 90-minute session, including 20 concentrated minutes of the presentation followed activities and discussion (perhaps in smaller groups, some presenter-moderated) may allow our brains to internalize the concepts. Dr. Rock thinks  "There's more involvement, more ‘generating' of the ideas by the participants, which is one of the key requirements for embedding learning." Dr. Rock points out social networking benefits when scheduling such additional time so conference attendees can to talk, rather than rush to the next classroom.

Roger Moffat writes "This link shows what we at the Western Michigan Genealogical Society did last year with Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak as our speaker - 75 minute sessions (the second one was 105 minutes) with at least 45 minutes between. By and large this was very well received by the attendees.

RootsTech 2011 had "unconferencing" sessions, but since they were unpublished, they were too informal -- and too much of a big jump for the usual family history conference goer. The basic sessions held at RootsTech were of the typical 60-minute "old style". Perhaps making the break to the "new style" needs to be brought to our attention during each day's opening session, so no one gets left behind.

I've got more to say tomorrow, but would like to give my DearREADERS time to read Dr. Rock's article, and think how his ideas may benefit your society upcoming conference.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. This is a very interesting concept! I would love to see some groups/societies test this out in one day programs. I would love to hear how it goes over.

  2. Just read the article and it resonated with me. As a newbie conference attendee with just 2 events under my belt, the biggest challenge was digesting the info and meeting with both people I knew and also wanted to meet. I like the idea of fewer classes and better facilitation of social networking. More informal and less expensive drop in buffet meals without paid speakers would be great.

  3. I found this article to be quite interesting. When I first began attending genealogy conferences, I was shocked at the formula: 50 - 60 minutes of lecture with all questions held until the end.

    This was so unlike the models used in training environments where we try to change the activities or the mode of teaching every 12 -20 minutes and allow for interaction along the way.

    It has been my experience that when people want to ask a question, they experience anxiety if they don't get to ask it. All they can think about is their own question and they tune out for the next 15 minutes if they don't get to ask it. By the time a Q & A comes around at the end of the session, they have either forgotten their question or lost interest.

    Since I like to interact with my audience, I encourage questions throughout my presentations. Besides, this way I also learn from them. And it allows me to give them what they want. It also keeps my presentations fresh each and every time.

    Thanks for sharing the link!

  4. Interactive and participatory learning is by far more affective. Conference participants should embrace the natural learning pyramid, and will benefit from the reinforcement of knowledge. What good is knowledge with out implementation?

  5. After spending many years in the training profession, I know that people learn much better when they have a chance to practice what they just learned. At NGS last year (my first national conference), I was really pumped at the beginning of the day but after attending 3-4 sessions, I was pretty wiped and couldn't remember what I learned at the beginning. I want to "do" something with what I learn as soon as possible.

  6. Thanks for the article and the great topic. Personally I've been using the 90 minute format for webinars - there is 50 minutes of solid presentation time on my part, then add a good 20 minutes for Q&A and the rest of the time is part promo, part housekeeping but I think it is better than the mad rush to complete everything in an hour.