Education, Presentation, or Solicitation?

Recently I saw a Facebook group aimed at promoting a three hour event to teach people to “get the most” out of attending an 8 hour “un-conference” – a concept that is so silly that I hesitate to even suggest its existence here.

“Un-conferences” are events by and for the participants who attend to share their knowledge, ask questions and search for answers together. Perhaps training for such an event is required – but if it is, that training took place in nursery school when we were taught that it’s polite to share. 

I’m not suggesting that social media and social networking are not to be used for marketing purposes. Nor am I suggesting that training is not needed or necessary to engage in social marketing in an effective manner (after all , I am the CEO of a company that provides training and education). What I am suggesting is that every event with the words social marketing or social media in their title is not education.

So let’s start by seeing what the word educate means:

educate [ˈɛdjʊˌkeɪt]

vb (mainly tr)

1. (Social Science / Education) (also intr) to impart knowledge by formal instruction to (a pupil); teach
2. to provide schooling for (children) I have educated my children at the best schools
3. to improve or develop (a person, judgment, taste, skills, etc.)
4. to train for some particular purpose or occupation

[from Latin ēducāre to rear, educate, from dūcere to lead]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Education (in my opinion) should lay a foundation for understanding the topic, present a course of material designed to improve or develop specific skills, and be interactive requiring the student to actually think, act, and plan towards the eventual use of the material. At some point there should be both work groups and tests to demonstrate the understanding of the students, with the understanding that any good course of instruction merely paves the way for further education and instruction, self-guided or not.

Try as we might, most group presentations fail to achieve any of these goals. We do inform, and we try to give take aways, but even the finest instructor is limited when their are limited to the stage /audience interaction of most presentations.  We can inform, demonstrate, and elucidate, but to really teach someone something, we need more. We need a classroom type of interaction and (as the definition states so well ) formal instruction.

Presentations are really more informational than educational. They can be great to introduce a topic, help people expand their understanding or demonstrate a course of action, but they do not actually help people to improve, develop, or change their skill sets. At best they can inspire them to do so on their own. For people with a good base of knowledge on a subject, presentations may help fine tune your skills or develop a general plan of action, but they should not be confused with the classroom instruction of a real course of study. For people that are being introduced to the topic, the presentation may create a disposition to engage in a course of action or to act or not act in obtaining more information.

Solicitations are the bane of my existence. These are the pseudo-presentations that are designed to sell. The “infomercial” of the presenter or the conference which has little educational value and is more designed to enrich the presenter or sell a product than to achieve and educational or informational goal. Social Media and Social Marketing have spawned a ton of these because there are always people who want to cash in on a new trend, and the landscape of social marketing is new, uncharted and varied allowing for people with little or no credentials to claim expertise.

I recently attended a “social media summit” where the “keynote” showed one of Eric Qualman’s videos, framed on the screen as if it belonged to the presenter, and told people afterwards it was in the public domain and that they could email the staff of the presenter to find out how to see the video again.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of social media would have attributed the author as soon as the video was over and suggested that they go to Youtube to see the Socialnomics Channel.   They would have understood Youtube’s terms of service, not claimed that the video was public domain, and understood that being a valued source was more important than collecting the email address of the attendees (which they already had)  or indicating that they were the author (rather than the curator) of the information.  Unfortunately they understand how to sell “stuff” better than they understand how to participate in the evolution they claim expertise in.

Whatever types of social media events you choose to participate in education, presentation or solicitation, just be aware of the background, expertise, experience and motivation of the person at the head of the room. It will help make sure that the experience you wanted was the experience you received.