Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Genealogy Institutes?

There are many family history conferences across the country, and even more webinars, some are free and most are relatively inexpensive. So why should genealogists invest $350-$500 to attend a genealogy institute?
". . . the value of an institute such as SLIG, NIGR, or IGHR is the chance to spend five full days thinking about genealogy without the distractions of my regularly daily life at home. The 'content' of the courses is, of course, valuable, but for me it is the week of thinking about the bits and pieces of the course content that give me ideas for my own research that is really valuable." ~Jay Fonkert, CG
Genealogy institutes provide an immersive training experience. Educators have long known the best way to learn a language, a concept, or a skill is to be completely immersed in the learning process. Institutes allow students to focus their energy 100% on the learning process and to leave the many distractions of everyday life at home.

Traditional research into human learning holds that there are three learning styles or modalities/means of learning: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. New research in human learning hypothesizes three slightly different modalities of learning: Heart (feeling), Mind (thinking), and Body (experiencing). Genealogy institutes provide students with all three modalities under both hypotheses, and thus are the most comprehensive avenue for genealogical education. The experience of having all necessary modalities met is magnified by the immersive nature of an institute.

Auditory/Visual/Kinesthetic Learning Modalities
"Institutes offer hands-on learning opportunities unavailable elsewhere. At my last institute class I marked graves in a cemetery with a handheld GPS device, used land-platting software, and analyzed original prints of historic maps." ~Cafi Cohen
Most literature on these three learning modalities states that roughly 65% of adults are visual learners, roughly 30% of adults are auditory learners, and roughly 5% of adults are kinesthetic learners. However, the literature goes on to state that rigorously categorizing learners is not a useful exercise--in fact most of us lear best through a combination of two or more learning styles. How do genealogy institutes address all three learning modalities?

  1. Auditory--the most traditional method of learning for adults, it is also the most commonly used teaching method. Auditory learners need to hear the information. Genealogy institutes all strive to use the best lecturers in the business. These individuals are engaging speakers and know how to engage their audience through humor, stories, question and answer sessions, and interesting lectures.
  2. Visual--the second most common learning style, this is slightly less common in general genealogy conferences. A talented teacher, such as those who teach at genealogy institutes, know how to use visual aids such as power point, syllabus materials, and advanced reading assignments to enhance the learning experience. Within the genealogy institute lectures are enhanced and points emphasized through the use of power point; slides are never used as a prompt for the speaker. Many institute courses provide students with advanced reading material as well as periods of classroom time dedicated to reading materials followed by discussion. This, paired with engaging lectures, meets the needs of roughly 95% of all learners--needs which may or may not be met through other genealogy educational medium.
  3. Kinesthetic--what sets most genealogy institutes apart from other quality educational experiences are the hands-on activities provided for students. These often include field trips, computer labs, homework assignments, and in-class workshops. It is these activities, more than any other, which set a genealogy institute apart.

Heart/Mind/Body Learning Modalities
"I find them at the same time inspirational and grounding." ~Lisa McKinney
While the literature on these alternate learning modalities is newer and less proven, it nonetheless provides useful insight into the learning process, and into why genealogy institutes are held in such high regard by those who have attended them.
  1. Heart--the heart modality is said to be engaged when the learning process evokes an emotional response. These emotional responses may be excitement, sentiment, pride, anticipation, or a host of others. We see this modality being met at genealogy institutes when instructors teach with humor or intensity, when they engage students emotionally in the outcome of a case study, or when they provide an activity that evinces pride in the student. 
  2. Mind--the most obvious modality to be met at a genealogy institute, the theory holds that in order to process the information completely, a student's mind must be engaged and challenged. This, more than any other, is the trademark of the genealogy institute. The sheer density of the material challenges the student to remain mindful and intellectually engaged. Even during off-times the immersive nature of an institute means that lunches, breaks, and evenings are filled with spirited discussion among fellow students and instructors.
  3. Body--similar to the kinesthetic learning modality, genealogy institutes engage the physical side of learning through field trips, group work, and exercises requiring students to write and/or draw (i.e. platting a deed) during class.
The immersive nature of an institute, and its unique ability to provide for all learning modalities make them an educational opportunity well worth the extra money. Because there are so many excellent reasons to attend a genealogy institute, this will be the first in a series of blog posts.

Do you find that your learning style is met through genealogy institutes?


  1. Christy,

    Nice post and welcome to the world of geneablogging! Look forward to many more posts!

  2. Welcome to the geneablogging community!

  3. Great post and welcome to geneablogging!

  4. There is something to be said about getting away from distractions....laundry, dishes, "what's for dinner"... I'd much rather be immersed in genealogy research :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  5. What you have described is exactly why I have been to IGHR twice (and will be teaching this year), but have never been to NGS or FGS conferences. I will be teaching at NGS this year, though, so it will be my first national conference.


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