In the world of conference education, the future is not necessarily about the next technology gadget or innovative session format.
It's about something that is as old as disco balls, platform shoes and shag carpeting: 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.
Peerology — peers learning together — allows organizations to engage individuals at a level that can actually change people's brains. That's right, science now shows that this peer engagement causes our brains to rewire and grow. When peerology is used in the right situations, it has the ability to transform participants in an amazing way.
The concept of peerology — also known as paragogy or peeragogy — has been around since the 1970s, but it has taken on a new role in conferences as we have evolved from a passive to 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 collaboratively working together. It means that there is less talk from the front of the conference room and more buzz as people communicate and collaborate together. Peerology is not when a speaker allows the audience to ask questions. That's just standard Q & A and is 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 of information presented together in pairs, triads, or small groups.
Three Things Peerology Leverages
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. Acknowledging 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 instinctive urge to move forward as well as 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, learning 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.