Forward Thinking

Peer-ing Forward

In the world of conference education, the future is not necessarily about the next high-tech gadget or innovative session format. It's about something that is as old as shag carpeting. It's called peerology.

SME – Subject Matter Experts — has long been an important component of education-session development. But it’s time “SME” stood for something else: Subject Matter Experienced. And that leads us to peerology.

Also known as “peeragogy,” peerology is basically about peers learning together. Peerology allows organizations to engage individuals at a level that can actually change their brains. University of California, Berkeley professor Marian C. Diamond is one of the foremost researchers on neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. According to her research, humans learn more by working together.

The concept of peerology has been around since the 1970s, but it has taken on a new role as conferences have evolved from having a passive to a more participatory culture. Attendees are no longer satisfied with listening to a speaker drone on and on. They want to be active participants in their own learning as they construct their own mental maps of the topic at hand.

Peerology is simply about peers sharing with each other, discussing content, making sense of information, and working collaboratively. It means that there is less talk from the front of the conference room and more buzz as people communicate and work together.

Peerology is not when a speaker allows the audience to ask questions. That’s just standard Q&A, and it’s still a passive experience for most of the audience — except for the person asking and the person answering the question. Peerology is when peers construct their own meanings and context from information presented, working together in pairs, triads, or small groups.

Peerology leverages three things:

1 Personal experience and expertise This is critical, because all conference attendees come to an education session with their own knowledge, findings, and experiences about a topic. Acknowledg ing that our attendees bring something to the table and allowing them to share it with others provides affirmation and motivation, which are necessary for learning to occur.

2 Our intrinsic drive to improve Mature adults have an inherent urge to move forward as well as to help others. In peerology, when each person plays the role of both learner and instructor, collaboration multiplies and learning is more likely to occur. Remember, learn ing is a social process at its basic level and requires some type of feedback. Peerology allows us to give and receive feedback, a critical factor needed to learn and change.

3 The context As adults, we are problem-centric. We are constantly looking for information and solutions to the daily challenges we face. Our mental engagement increases when we are able to apply what our colleagues say worked for them to our own problems.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.