More action, less words

Imagine a hands-on experience where experts work with small groups of learners instead of the traditional “pre-conference workshop” followed by hours of lectures.

We did this at the recent Asian Pacific meeting held in Australia under the leadership of Dr. David Fielding, and again at a bronchoscopy course led by Dr. Javier Flandes in Spain. Feedback was positive and encouraging. In the next paragraphs, I will identify just a few advantages and disadvantages of such conference strategies.

Advantages: (1) People learn something. Active engagement time is maximized by using predetermined learning objectives and focused hands-on training with a low teacher/student ratio (one instructor for less than five learners). Teachers identify weaknesses by incorporating checklists and assessment tools into workstations. Learners reinforce skills they already have and identify areas they need to work on.  (2) Keeping didactic lectures to 10 minutes forces speakers to improve communication skills. They focus on what is truly important and not necessarily learned by reading. A short didactics program forces organizers to identify core competencies and prompts speakers to give lectures that are complementary rather than all-encompassing. Didactics are modifiable based on audience needs (learner-centricity). (3) Workshops enhance exposure to a variety of technologies, instruments, and teaching techniques. Companies see users get their hands on their equipment. Learners prefer doing to listening. Simulation using models, computers, and role-playing exercises forces teachers to learn how to use specific scenarios. This skill is essential for tomorrow’s educators today.

Disadvantages: (1) People are resistant to change, despite statistics showing the value of short lectures. Materials can be provided before or on-site in the form of on-line PDF files or presentations. (2) Organizers must work to organize workshop style formats.They must carefully select instructors and assignments. This bruises egos. Course directors might need to learn how to organize such programs and how to assess value. Instructors might need to improve small-group teaching skills. Expect resistance for the same reasons as above. (3) Not all topics can be covered, although special lectures, pro/con debates and interactive panel discussions for controversial issues and new technologies are warranted.

We are a technology and empathy-driven profession where actions speak louder than words.

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