How to inspire transformational learning

transformational learningWhy do some learning experiences stay burning in our brains and others fade into oblivion? Transformational learning is the key!

I still vividly remember the first Event Camp held on February 6, 2010, in New York City. I learned so much at this one-day event, meeting many progressive meeting industry professionals for the first time and making what have turned out to be lasting connections and friendships.

And I believe that most participants experienced something similar.

Why did we have this shared learning and connecting experience? Was there a critical factor that made this meeting such a transformational experience?

Emotional connection

While reading J. Scott Wagner‘s wonderful book The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives — a must-read for liberals and conservatives who want to communicate better with each other — I came across a passage that answers these questions:

“It’s easy to forget that inspiration is the only voluntary catalyst for transformation.

There’s only one way I’ve found that our adult unconscious mind can consistently be inspired to shed…heuristics and biases and learn something challenging from someone else. It’s actually miraculously easy, often: we experience a positive emotional connection together.”
—J. Scott Wagner, The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives

Scott is not talking here about our routine day-to-day right-brain learning. Rather he is describing transformational learning, the kind where real change can occur in how we view the world and our experience of it. He says, and I agree, that a positive emotional experience of connection inspires transformational learning.

That’s what happened at Event Camp 2010. We came together for the first time and discovered kindred souls who were thirsting to learn and share about how to make meetings better. And in one day, our positive emotional connection changed our preconceptions of what meetings could be.

The original participants at the first edACCESS conference, which I and others convened in 1992, felt the same way. The experience of this early peer conference led to an annual conference that’s still thriving 30 years later. Over time it has become clear that the driving force behind the event’s success has been how its design fosters participants’ positive emotional experiences, creating and supporting opportunities for transformational change in how the professional attendees view and do their work.

Fostering learning experiences

Traditional meetings don’t treat sessions as times to foster positive emotional learning experiences but as times to learn from lectures. So, at such meetings, positive emotional experiences are restricted to not-sessions-socials and not-sessions-entertainment. The official learning opportunities are segregated from exactly the kind of environments that can make them inspirational and transformative.

Paradoxically, we design special events to create positive emotional experiences — but special events don’t focus on learning! Rather, to inspire transformational learning, you need to create conferences and conference sessions designed around appropriate positive emotional experiences that relate to the real learning wants and needs of the participants. Do this, and you’ll discover how powerful, transformational, and unforgettable meetings can be!

Hybrid event architecture ideas sparked by Event Camp Twin Cities 2011

Hybrid event architecture ideasI expect much will be written about the problems encountered with communications with the remote pods at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011 (ECTC) last week. Rather than concentrate on what went wrong, I thought I’d share some ideas on hybrid event architecture that grew from my on-site experience and a long conversation with Brandt Krueger, who produced the event, the following morning. Without Brandt’s explanations I wouldn’t have been able to write this post, but any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone. I am not a production professional, so I write this post in the spirit of provoking discussion and input from those who have far more experience in this area.

Event Camp Twin Cities hybrid event design

Let’s start with a brief description of the set-up at Event Camp Twin Cities. As with many hybrid events, there were three audiences:

  • The local on-site attendees in Minneapolis
  • Seven “pods” (small groups of people that gathered in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Silicon Valley and two corporate headquarters)
  • Individual remote audience members

Both the pods and the individual remote audience members viewed the activities in Minneapolis via Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite platform. This product provides, via a browser-embedded player, A/V from the event (e.g. a presenter speaking) alongside additional media feeds (e.g. presenter slides). The flexibility of this technology, however, includes a cost that contributed to the problems encountered at Event Camp Twin Cities. The “real-time” feed delivered to remote attendees was delayed approximately twenty seconds.

During ECTC, individual remote audience members viewed the Mediasite feed and interacted with the proceedings via Twitter as a backchannel, ably assisted by remote audience host (aka virtual emcee) Emilie Barta. From the accounts I’ve heard, this channel worked well.

The pods also viewed the Mediasite feed and could interact via Twitter. To provide additional interactivity for the pods, Event Camp Twin Cities set up live Skype calls to the pods. Several pods clustered on one Skype call. When local participants wanted to have a real-time conversation, they switched to Skype, turning off the Mediasite feed. This is like the way a radio show caller turns off their time-delayed broadcast radio once on the phone.

How it worked out

For reasons that are not clear to me, this switchover process did not work well at ECTC. Rather than concentrate on what happened and why, I’d like to suggest another architectural approach for the pods’ experience that may prevent similar problems in the future.

Instead of switching between delayed and real-time channels for the pods, I think that pod <—> local communications should be set up only via real-time channels. One reason that the pods at ECTC use the (delayed) Mediasite feed is that it provided a convenient aggregation of the two broadcast sources needed for any event these days—A/V of what is going on at the venue plus a channel for slides or other supporting materials. That works for the individual remote audience, which only interacts with the event via Twitter. But when you want to have significant real-time, two-way communication between pods and the main event, you have to handle the complexity involved in switching between delayed and real-time channels on the fly.

Possible improvements

Here’s how my approach would work. All the pods would receive a single real-time broadcast channel for supporting materials (slides, movies etc.) created at the event. You can easily do this using one of the “screen-sharing” solutions in wide use today. The A/V from a “master” computer would broadcast to each pod. And the event would link to each pod via its own two-way channel. This could be a Skype or other videoconference call, or perhaps a product like Google+ Hangouts could be used.

With this architecture, the pods would not receive a delayed feed (i.e. no Mediasite feed), so no switching between delayed and live would be necessary. (Individual remote audience members would continue to receive the delayed feed, as before.) The main event site would need to produce the audio feed, to avoid distracting sound from the pods. But this approach would eliminate the complexities of switching between two channels on the fly.

I think that this approach might be an improvement over the Event Camp Twin Cities 2011 design. It would allow easier spontaneous real-time interaction with the pods, while eliminating one potential source of problems during the event. I await with interest any comments by those who understand the issues better than I.

Hybrid event production professionals, hybrid event attendees, in fact all event professionals: what do you think?

Thanks Ruud Janssen for the photo of the production studio at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011!