To the Point

Adventures in Learning

And the winners are...

Have you ever wondered how to find out what type of mortgage works best for you, or the best way to manage student debt? You’re not alone. When Bank of America partnered with the Khan Academy last year on a massive open online course (MOOC) to help consumers better understand personal finance, it filled an important need for free consumer education.

Khan Academy has been on the cutting edge of online education, and we were fortunate to have founder Salman Khan deliver a compelling keynote presentation at Convening Leaders this year.

Corporations are starting to use MOOC platforms to educate their staffs and constituents. Yahoo! and McAfee now use MOOCs to train their legions of employees around the world; 1-800-FLOWERS has a MOOC to educate its network of independent florists on business issues; and AT&T has partnered with Georgia Tech University and Udacity on an online master’s degree in computer science.

While MOOCs have their skeptics — and I agree that the long-term success of some of these online learning courses remains to be seen — we can’t ignore their popularity. Those of us in the face-to-face meetings industry need to keep an eye on what’s happening in online learning, differentiate that from the face-to-face opportunities at our education events, and use online platforms to complement in-person learning.

When we bring meeting professionals together at PCMA events, we focus on how to personalize their learning experience while enabling them to be active participants in it. Those two objectives — along with our overall goal of experimenting with new meeting concepts so attendees can experience them before trying them out at their own events — helped fuel a new initiative on the second day of our Education Conference in Toronto in June, when we mixed things up and offered education and networking in an open-space format. Instead of going to standard breakout sessions in separate rooms, attendees spent the day in the same big ballroom with the ability to move freely between different areas and designated learning topics. They could dig more deeply into some issues covered the day before, exchange advice with peers, or simply share coffee with colleagues.

Admittedly, attendees were skeptical at first. But once they saw how they could be masters of their own educational “destiny,” things picked up. Many told me how they appreciated the smaller discussion groups and having the ability to move freely between areas or topics and have impromptu conversations. Overall, the experiment was a success. Sure, there were challenges and things we’d do differently next time. But even when things don’t work out as well as we’d anticipated, it’s a learning opportunity not only for us, but for our participants as well.

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.