Design Principles for UnConference – Alternate Reality

I have been asked by people how the UnConference will be different from regular “conferences”. The first Learning Cafe UnConference is being held in Sydney on 16th Feb 2012 and coming along very nicely. This gathering of experienced L&D professionals will discuss contemporary L&D topics with an eye on the future.  Before I delve into the “how” let me talk about the “why” to set the scene.

I have enjoyed attending and presenting at Training and Development conferences in Australia. They give me an opportunity to learn and meet people. However after a few years I felt the need to have deeper discussions with like-minded professionals on some of the big questions facing our profession.

I do believe that the L&D community can play a critical role in ensuring that our workforce remains productive and competitive within Australia and globally. Recently there were job cuts in the automobile manufacturing and financial services in Australia. While the high Australian dollar takes some blame, we cannot escape the reality that products and services can produced at a lower costs overseas. This trend is likely to continue till we can our products and services can justify for our higher cost base i.e are innovative and high value add.

This is where L&D professionals can be proactive and shape the direction of the skills and capability of the workforce with larger picture in mind. However I digress but the point is I did not come across many forums where practising L&D professionals had an opportunity to discuss these big issues and questions. Learning Cafe and the UnConference is an attempt to create this opportunity, which I am happy to report, is finding resonance in the L&D community in Australia.

Here is the thinking behind the design of the UnConference.

Big questions and contemporary topics – Topics are contemporary and discuss some big questionsThe discussions are facilitated (not presented) by experienced L&D professionals include:

Pure & quality (not quantity) discussion – The emphasis is on pure discussion with no sales messages. The UnConference wants to keep out “selling messages” which sometimes explicitly or implicitly influences what is talked about a conference. The number for participants is limited to 45 to enable intimate and quality discussions. In the future it is likely that there will be more people wanting to attend than places available and we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Reduced expertise distance – Our base design principle is that all participants have expertise and insights to share which will be valuable to everyone. The idea is to avoid have an “expert” stand up and address an audience via powerpoint. The sessions are structured so that the majority of the time is set aside for a discussion. Opportunities such as the “open sessions” (soapbox) are available for any participant to speak up on any topic relevant to them and the audience.

Cost effective professional development event – This learning event is a cost effective professional development day for L&D professionals. It is a very much back to basics – it will be unglamorous and workman (or workperson) like.

Informal Learning and the balance between structure and “unstructure” – This UnConference has a bit of structure as it is the first one. The intention is to have less structure next year as we explore “participant driven agenda” and leverage informal and community learning models.

Outcome driven learning event – The output from the UnConference will be a position paper which will be released to the wider learning community in Australia. The outcome driven agenda will encourage the discussions to be more focussed.

There is however an intended consequence for this design. There will be fewer opportunities for participants to sit back and “tune out”. There will be lots of opportunities to participate in the discussion and even set the agenda in the open session. Here is crossing my fingers that it all comes together and magic happens.

Visit the UnConference web site to find out more about the sessions and leave your comments.

 Design Principles for UnConference – Alternate Reality