How to Get the Most Out of Conferences
As is the case in many professions, anyone certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) must pursue professional development on an ongoing basis by accruing continuing education units (CEUs).
Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) must accrue 32 CEUs every two years, while Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs) must accrue 20.
These CEUs can be earned by teaching courses or professional development events for others, or by publishing or peer-reviewing research – but by far the most common method of obtaining CEUs is attending conferences and other educational events.
Conference attendance has changed substantially in the last few years, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and the associated improvement in video conferencing technology. When I was in school, traveling to attend our field’s big annual conference, no matter where it was being held in the United States, was an expectation and almost an obligation. It was also common to attend local state or regional chapter conferences. If you were really lucky, your school or workplace might host invited speakers for exclusive smaller-scale continuing education events.
Now, the world is every behavior analyst’s oyster! Almost all conferences worldwide offer synchronous and asynchronous online attendance options, even when they are also being held in person. Some, like Assent Con, are designed to take place fully online. There are also innumerable stand-alone presentation options, such as those offered by the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE) Learning Hub, Motivate U, and Study Notes ABA. It’s easier than ever for a behavior analyst to earn their required CEUs from the comfort of their own home.
Why Attend Conferences?
Given the extreme convenience of pre-recorded video modules that can be binge-watched as needed, what’s to stop a behavior analyst from meeting their re-certification requirements in the matter of a few days every two years? Well, nothing, but this really wouldn’t fulfill the “spirit” of continuing education.
As the BACB itself states, “the intent is for ongoing development, so we highly recommend accruing continuing education throughout your recertification cycle.” Live conferences, whether in person or online, help to pace professional development, and offer a lot that pre-recorded video modules simply can’t, such as:
- Networking. Conferences provide a valuable opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with old friends and colleagues. Even through online attendance, there are often social events encouraging attendees to connect with each other. This offers the chance to learn about others’ areas of expertise such that you can consult with them in the future, collaborate on research, or pursue new career opportunities. On the other side of the coin, conferences are also an opportunity for others to meet and learn about you!
- Conversations. Beyond just making connections for potential future benefit, attending live presentations also allows you to talk about and process what you’re learning in the moment. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, engage in discussions, and actively analyze and critique the presented material. This type of interactive learning is much more difficult when watching pre-recorded videos alone.
- Inspiration. While I will be eternally grateful for the technological advancements enabling everyone to learn just about anything at any time they wish, attending conferences allows you to learn about topics that might not have even occurred to you to seek out. Most conferences have a set schedule of back-to-back presentations, or a few options (at most) to choose from during each time slot. You might register to attend a conference based on certain topics that you know will help in your work with clients, only to learn more than you ever expected from events that weren’t even on your radar. A varied conference schedule allows you to explore new ideas and perspectives.
- Focus. Your mileage may vary based on online vs. in-person attendance, but in general, committing to a full conference can help with focusing on the material and eliminating some distractions. Taking a day off or dedicating a weekend to a conference is often a very different experience from trying to squeeze in an hour or two of video recordings during a lunch break or after work.
- Recharge. Conferences can be an opportunity to take a break from the daily routine and recharge your batteries, both personally and professionally. I find this to especially be the case if you’re able to attend conferences in person – unwinding with friends and colleagues during breaks or after a full day of learning can turn a work trip into a vacation! But even if you’re attending online, changing your typical schedule can shake some cobwebs loose and aid in the inspiration and focus that I highlighted above.
How to Prepare
If I’ve convinced you of the benefits of attending conferences, the next step is to prepare to make the most out of the experience!
- Don’t overdo it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen friends sprint from presentation to presentation without breaks, cramming as much learning as they can into their first day at a conference, only to burn out and crash in their hotel rooms on the second day! Even if you attend a conference online, it’s not very easy to retain what you learn with that kind of intense schedule. Pace yourself, take breaks, stay hydrated, and emphasize quality over quantity. For larger conferences with multiple options throughout each day, it’s a good idea to plan out a schedule to help achieve this.
- Avoid repetition. For conferences that don’t have specific themes, I strongly suggest attending a variety of presentations to learn about different topics rather than focusing solely on one or two. From year to year, presenters often share somewhat similar material to what they have in the past – which is important for attendees who haven’t gotten the chance to learn it yet, but you’ll want to make sure that you’re expanding your horizons rather than retreading old ground!
- Review the learning objectives. If you want to do a deep dive on a specific topic, review the presentations’ associated learning objectives ahead of time in order to ensure that the material will truly be new to you. At conferences offering CEUs fulfilling BACB requirements, every presentation is required to provide objectives specifying how attendees will be able to apply what they learn. If you’re hoping to learn about specific uses for or risks of an assessment or intervention, an introductory presentation simply describing the procedures wouldn’t meet your needs.
- Take notes. One of the most important underlying principles of behavior analysis is that learning doesn’t reliably occur unless there is some form of active responding. Taking notes of some kind is a good way to accomplish that! You could underline and highlight key points on handouts, type up bullet points to share with colleagues who weren’t able to attend, or bring a notebook and journal all of your thoughts about and reactions to each presentation.
- Think about “action items.” While conferences are invigorating, it’s all too easy to slip back into your routine and forget what you’ve learned after they end. To help overcome this tendency, I suggest thinking about how exactly you’ll be able to apply what you’re learning during each presentation. Will you need to set aside time to update your session materials? Schedule a meeting to discuss potential workplace changes with your supervisor? Train your team to implement cutting-edge procedures? While you take notes, make a plan for how you’ll get the most out of what you’re learning long-term!
At the time of this writing, the Waypoints team is currently preparing for the Black Applied Behavior Analysts (BABA) conference, which we’ll be able to attend in person since it’s being held in neighboring Detroit! I also want to give a shout-out to the upcoming Women in Behavior Analysis events.
Looking for conferences near you, or CEU opportunities in general? Drop us a line at email@example.com and we can give you support in finding events that will meet your needs.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst® Handbook. (2023). Behavior Analyst Certification Board®. Retrieved from https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/BCBAHandbook_230321-a.pdf
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