Conference 2.0


It took less than ten years from the birth of the World Wide Web for its static, read-only, broadcast-style websites (Web 1.0) to be superseded by read-write, social websites (Web 2.0), where participation and collaboration are key.

Unfortunately, we’ve been running Conference 1.0 for over three hundred years, with no significant updates. (Is PowerPoint that superior to a blackboard?)

Conference 1.0 is characterized by:

  • Conference programs predetermined by a small organizing group.
  • Distinctions between presenters (teachers) and attendees (learners).
  • Sessions dominated by, at most, a few speakers.
  • Some combination of general and breakout sessions.
  • Long, uninterrupted broadcast content.
  • Networking opportunities relegated to meals & social events outside the program sessions.

Amazingly, after no change for three centuries, the last twenty years has seen the rise of a different kind of conference, Conference 2.0, characterized by:

  • Programs, schedules, and activities determined by attendees at the event.
  • The blurring of teacher and learner as fixed roles; a teacher at one moment may be a learner the next.
  • “The people formerly known as the audience” actively participating and contributing to sessions.
  • A wide range of session formats: small group discussions, Ignite & Pecha Kucha, simulations, workshops, etc., coupled with few or no general sessions.
  • Long sessions broken up by frequent participatory learning opportunities for attendees.
  • Conference designs that directly facilitate, support, and encourage connections and networking between attendees.

The move to Conference 2.0 will be much slower than the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0, because Conference 1.0 has been our dominant modality for adult face-to-face learning for so long, and it’s hard to change entrenched culture. And yet, year by year, assisted by the impact of the rise of online, Conference 2.0 designs have become better known, and their advantages experienced by more and more people.

Not one of the 500 most popular websites today is a Web 1.0 design. I believe that, over time, a similar transition from Conference 1.0 to 2.0 will occur. Whether it takes five years or a hundred years is up to you.

What are you doing to prepare for the rise of Conference 2.0? Do you organize conferences, but haven’t experienced Conference 2.0 yet? What are you waiting for?