Three Better Practices for the Future of Professional Development

Far too many professional conference and seminar sessions still look exactly like the instruction we baby boomers experienced in high school or college. We might learn better and have more fun if they looked a little more like the playfulness in our elementary school experience.

Even when we moved learning online, we initially attempted to move these limitations into webinars, podcasts and other professional development resources. Despite the power of our new tools and technologies, too many people are still trapped in a life experience worldview and too few people are willing to risk creating a different learning culture. Here are three better practices in professional development I think would make most associations and nonprofits more effective in serving their members and stakeholders.

Collaborative Learning. Many people now have a strong preference for collaborative learning and this will continue to grow into the future. This preference is not just limited to online learning using group collaboration technologies. I also see more professions adopting problem-based learning, action learning, and other methods for co-creating the learning experience. If we pause to be historically honest, we have always created new knowledge this way, building on what others have learned, but we let the design of our learning experiences around the sage on the stage confuse us about how learning really happens. Learning has always been collaborative. We just have better tools now to make this a significant part of our learning culture.

Repurposing and Extending Knowledge. Chris Anderson explained this idea well from a marketplace perspective in his book The Long Tail. I look at the same potential from a learning perspective. Why waste anything when we have so many channels for delivering what we have learned and so many people have different learning style preferences anyway? An increasingly popular example of repurposing in associations is offering non-conference participants web access to all recorded sessions and supporting resources at an affordable price. I just heard an even better idea this week in an interview with an association member. She wanted 15 minute knowledge segments accessible on the web that she could use in the limited time she has for periodic staff training. Web 2.0 gives us many creative options for repurposing and extending knowledge.

Anticipatory Learning. I explore this process in-depth in my book, Anticipate the Future You Want: Learning for Alternative Futures. Anticipatory learning is a framework for acquiring the knowledge and skills to understand future possibilities and the ability to collaborate in creating a preferred future. When learning faces forward in this way, knowledge becomes a force field flowing into new possibilities. I feel strongly that associations and nonprofits have a particular responsibility to prepare their members and stakeholders for the future. They are responsible for helping their constituents learn and evolve to thrive in changing conditions. At a minimum, this means monitoring trends and issues and their implications to continually renew and keep relevant the knowledge in any field.