This is post 4 in the series "Essential Informal Learning for Any Degree Program" by Saul Carliner which offers several concrete suggestions for extracurricular activities to recommend and to students and details how to direct students to the choices most appropriate for them.
In addition to encouraging students to pick up a regular reading habit, also encourage them to attend conferences in the field. Like publications, two general categories of conferences exist: professional and academic. This posting explores both.
But because the expense of conferences admittedly poses a barrier to participation, and because different students have different needs for attending conferences, this posting closes with some general suggestions to consider when recommending conferences to students.
Professional conferences refer to events that:
- Focus on practice. Most include a number of how-to sessions about technology and related topics.
- May include an exposition, where participants can view products and services appropriate to their work. For example, expositions at training and development conferences feature exhibitions from producers of authoring and enterprise learning software, publishers of e-learning libraries and books, and developers and sellers or courses, among others.
- Typically include a keynote speaker, often a major thinker in business or technology, or who has exceptional motivational skills.
- Are usually overseen by a program director, who selects presentations on his or her own, or with the guidance of an advisory committee.
Table 1 suggests some professional publications to consider recommending to your students.
Table 1: Professional Conferences to Recommend
(not peer-reviewed, appropriate for students seeking a professional position after graduating)
- ASTD International Conference and Expo
- CLO (sponsored by CLO Media)
- CSTD Conference and Trade Show (CSTD)
- DevLearn (sponsored by the e-Learning Guild)
- ISPI Conference
- Learning Solutions (sponsored by the e-Learning Guild)
- MLearnCon (sponsored by the e-Learning Guild)
- Quebec Association for Adult Learning (held occasionally)
- TechKnowledge (ASTD)
- Training (sponsored by Lakewood Publications Media)
Academic conferences primarily offer opportunities to present recent research and theory. Some emphasize research, others emphasize theory, and some emphasize both. In one common approach, people present emerging research and theory at conferences, receive feedback from participants, and refine the presentation for formal publication.
Most academic conferences are peer-reviewed, with reviewers making recommendations on acceptance and program leaders using those recommendations to make selections. Many of these conferences have a double-blind review process in which reviewers and authors do not know one another’s identity.
Table 2 suggests some academic conferences to consider recommending to your students.
Table 2: Academic Conferences to Recommend
(peer-reviewed, appropriate for students planning to continue their academic studies at the PhD level)
- Academy for Human Resource Development Conference
- Academy for Management Conference Conference
- Adult Education Research Conference
- AECT Annual Conference
- American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting
- e-Learn Conference
- ED-MEDIA Conference (sponsored by AACE)
- ACM/SIGCHI Conference
- Your suggestions
General Guidance When Recommending Conferences
When recommending conferences to your students, consider these general suggestions.
Be sensitive to cost. After tuition, most students have limited funds for extra-curricular development. Although participation in conferences offers a long-term investment in a career, the short-term cost also needs to be affordable.
Consider these tips for reducing costs for conferences. Nearly all conferences offer student rates. Make sure yours take advantage of them.
- Some conferences offer a volunteer program (especially professional conferences). One typical approach is the four-on, four-in program, in which volunteers work for four hours then have four hours of free admission. Some volunteers work at the registration desk and guiding participants, but others work as room monitors and can attend sessions while fulfilling their duties. Students who volunteer a half day each day of the conference can attend the conference without paying a registration fee.
- Take a group of students to a conference. Some offer group discounts, with special discounts for academic groups.
- Find out what your university offers support for attending conferences. Support usually exists in departments, colleges (faculties), graduate studies, and student associations. Some programs offer stipends to individual students; others underwrite the cost of collective traveling (rental of vans or mileage, shared hotel rooms). Actual support varies widely within universities; some universities offer several programs to support students in attending conferences.
Advise students to attend the conference that best meets their long-term needs—not the one in the most exotic location. Some students like the obscure conferences in the Greek Isles and the south of Spain. Sure, the location is exotic, but the conference may or may not offer the best networking opportunities for finding jobs. And those who are considering academic employment will be expected to have presented at the major conferences in their specialty; some of these conferences might not meet that criterion. So students invest in a vacation but not their career.
Scaffold student experiences at conferences. Spend some time with them in advance of the conference to identify the types of experiences they should seek at a conference, including attendance at formal sessions, and participation in various group meetings and social events.
Help students develop a preliminary agenda. One caveat: be sure to provide students permission to change their agenda onsite as they learn of other opportunities from other participants.
Similarly, provide students with tips on how to meet people at conferences, so they can take advantage of the networking opportunities and, more fundamentally, feel comfortable at the event.
Final Tip: To learn more about different types of informal learning activities, check out chapters 5 and 6 of the new book, Informal Learning Basics from ASTD Press.