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Extending Your Conference Learning

For years, learning professionals looked at conferences, institutes, and convenings as one-shot events where participants re-energized themselves to take on the rest of the school year or re-connected with old friends and colleagues. The bad rap still often associated with conferences is that once it's over, the learning stops and reality sets in.

That's not how we see it at Learning Forward, and our Learning School Alliance is a good example of what we mean when we say that our conferences are one part of a total learning package.

Viewed appropriately, a conference is actually one of many ways a school staff can coalesce around their important learning goals and plans. For example, all Learning Schools use both the Summer and Annual Learning Forward Conferences as intensive learning settings where they collaborate to design and hone their LSA professional learning plans. During the conferences they are able to test ideas with colleagues and attend sessions uniquely fitted to the problems of practice they are addressing or professional learning plans they are executing.

Coupled with the conference, the rest of the learning package for LSA schools includes a full array of learning channels that include ongoing virtual discussions, monthly webinars, coaching sessions with a dedicated facilitator/coach, and virtual school visits with peer schools. Each of these learning channels extends the conference learning and allows LSA schools to continually cycle back to what they took away from the conference never letting it die in a stack of long forgotten conference programs and lost concurrent session notes.

So as you make plans to attend Learning Forward's 2011 Annual Conference in Anaheim December 3-7, what will your learning package include? Need a few ideas?

Before you arrive, set your learning goals for the conference---why are you going, what key ideas or concepts do you want to explore, how will you know the conference has been a success and a good investment for you? Read some books and articles written by the internationally acclaimed speakers on the program. Review the conference sessions you have chosen and craft some questions you may want to ask the facilitators. Peruse the session presenter lists to see if there are any speakers on the program at sessions you can't attend then plan to meet them for networking.

During the conference, take notes, but be certain to include specific action items you plan to take related to them. Put it on your calendar when you'll take action. Keep a record of people back in your office or school with whom you will share what you learned and make an appointment to do it.

After the conference, follow up on your action items to meet, share, and connect with people about what you learned.

My list could go on well beyond the scope of this post, but you get the picture. Be creative and wrap up a learning package that makes the most of any conference experience so that learning continues long after you return home.

Carol François
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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