In June 2011, some 330 participants attended the first Big Learning Event (BLE), jumping into a mosh pit of minds and ideas for unbridled thinking and questioning. Led by some of the world’s brightest minds from disparate disciplines, attendees developed ideas for campus and forged new boundary-busting connections. In response to the impact and popularity of the first event, a second BLE will take place June 5-6 at the Gordon Dining & Event Center, 770 W. Dayton St.
“Big Learning Event: Powerful Conversations for the Future” will have big speakers, big ideas and big opportunities, according to Harry Webne-Behrman, a training officer with the UW-Madison Office of Human Resource Development and member of the event’s design team. “The first BLE was an amazing event that truly transformed many participants’ perspectives on their work, key issues we face together, and approaches to those issues that are possible. A really powerful sense of community emerged, one that persisted into other learning beyond the BLE. For all of us on the design team, it was a powerful affirmation that we had come upon a great approach and that we wanted to try to sustain it.”
Just as with the first BLE, the event will turn the traditional conference model on its head by posing just a few questions. For the speakers: What issues are on your minds? Why? For the university community: How might these issues affect how we work and adapt to change?
Big questions, sure, but attendees will arrive at answers with help from guest speakers. BLE organizers have gathered a mix of leaders and thinkers who are open to new ideas and approaches to learning: environmentalist Saleem Ali; artist and writer Lynda Barry; physician and researcher Molly Carnes; astronomer Jill Tarter; and social learning theorist Etienne Wenger-Trayner.
Throughout the event, the guest speakers will offer and reflect on their expertise while attendees can react, respond, pose questions and offer solutions. UW-Madison’s Patrick Sims and Kathy Cramer Walsh are event moderators.
The event structure includes a presentation from each speaker, facilitated conversations among the speakers and audience, concurrent in-depth breakout sessions with each speaker, and sessions that bring the groups together to explore and expand upon the key questions. BLE registrants will also be invited to participate in study groups in advance of the event. The human capital on campus is massive and organizers believe BLE is an incubator for creative systems and solutions. The impact of the first BLE is still felt on campus. We now have meditation spaces in the Wisconsin Union and a graduate was moved to collaborate with Bob McGrath of University Health Services to develop a mindfulness workshop. Others have reported transformative impacts on their approaches to work, as well as new awareness about innovative educational approaches that exist in the larger world that they see as “BLE-worthy,” says Webne-Behrman. “I still receive e-mails from people about cool things happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere that remind them of the BLE! And the impact on Lily Yeh, among other speakers, is something she reports has truly been a blessing to her work.”