Molly Marsh, AMR Director of Education and Engagement Design
Associations create content – research and publications, conference presentations, professional development trainings, webinars and podcasts, etc. – all to support the learning and advancement of professionals in their given industry or practice. Of course, there are many reasons an association may choose certain educational offerings but, ultimately, the goal is to drive learning and build skills which professionals can use to improve their work.
So why do so many association conferences seem to cover the same topics year-in and year-out? Why do we all write articles about the major trends or issues facing the industry and then see them emerge again the following year with no real progress made? Possibly because no matter how good the content is, simply consuming information will NOT drive someone to change behavior or transform their work.
That’s where the concept of Elaboration comes in. In short, Elaboration means articulating new information and then applying it to something you already know. In Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, authors Brown, Roedinger and McDaniel use decades of research to highlight Elaboration and other evidence-based tactics proven to enhance learning and retention. They force readers to accept that information simply “consumed” (i.e. read, heard, viewed) will never make the transition from short term to long term memory. In order to begin to shift information to longer term memory, so it can be recalled and used later when needed, the brain must work a little harder.
Elaboration as a learning tool has great implications for association education and content strategy. Within a conference session or online educational offering, presenters can walk participants through the process of elaboration by asking them key questions about what the topic means to them, how it makes them think differently about something they already know or how they might see this new piece of information fitting into their existing context. For written publications or resources, closing the article with reflection questions guides the reader through the process of Elaboration and applying key themes to their own professional experiences.
Best yet, the practice of Elaboration can be weaved throughout various learning platforms to support ongoing recall opportunities and continued growth of learning. For example, a particularly salient issue for the profession could be introduced via a blog post, then addressed in an interactive in-person conference session or training, followed by a webinar or podcast which further advances the discussion on the issue’s implications for the industry. By interweaving the information over time and – at each phase – incorporating opportunities to examine how the topic relates to the industry, associations can build learning that will drive real change.