Conferences are still being held in the Learning and Development industry as in past years, and generally they have the same level of quality presentations, hallway discussions, vendor demos, and much more. But, from what I can tell, the economic recession and the constraints on budgets that it causes (especially travel budgets) seem to be resulting in lower turnouts—and also leading some in our industry to think about alternative approaches to obtaining the same or similar benefits.
Single-presentation “webinars” (such as those provided by Element K) have been around for many years, as have multi-speaker “virtual conferences.” An example of the latter would be the “online forums” that the eLearning Guild does each month. These are two-day virtual conferences on a particular theme or topic, with around 10 speakers presenting with breaks available between each time block. They use Adobe® Connect™ as the software platform, and Karen Hyder and Bill Bateman do an outstanding job of preparing the speakers and moderating the sessions. I have been a speaker at two of these, first in September of last year when I spoke on “Using Wikis in a Corporation,“ and then last month when I spoke on “Blending Web 2.0 Technologies with Traditional Formal Learning.” Both sessions had great Q&A and went very smoothly, and I can say the same for many of the other sessions from Guild Online Forums that I have attended. See their list of upcoming online forums—highly recommended. And Member Plus- and Premium-level members of the Guild have access to on-demand recordings of all the past online forum sessions, which include an amazing 500+ sessions.
I also recently participated in some events that involved different approaches, ones that are quite innovative and really pushing the envelope. One was a variation on the standard “virtual conference” idea, put on by the good folks at LearnTrends, a social networking site started by Jay Cross. See the listing of topics to get a sense for the scope of the event.
This virtual event had periodic presentations from dozens of people in the L&D field, but it was far less formal than a webinar or a typical virtual conference. The conversation was not mostly one-way, but rather many-to-many. There was a chat window for people who preferred typing text to speaking, but many people used their headsets to literally hold a group discussion over the Internet. Each time block had one or more moderators, to help keep things going and to integrate the text messages into the audio discussion.
To be sure, there were numerous audio issues—so apparently the Internet, our various audio microphones, and so on are not quite there yet for this to be a 100% smooth event. But it was worth participating in and I encourage readers to give it a try—there certainly was no lack of lively discussion, great ideas, and even some debate on issues of importance to learning leaders. Oh, and did I mention it was scheduled as a world-wide event, so rather than having it be two days focused on U.S. time zones, it went on for 24 hours straight? Granted, participation was light at some times, but that is still an impressive thing to even attempt, so kudos to Jay and team for putting it together. See also Jay’s thoughts about the event as well as Tony Karrer’s remarks.
The other innovative approach to online conferencing is a variation on a group IM chat. Rather than use traditional IM clients, the completely open Twitter platform has been used several times to bring people together to discuss learning and development topics.
These chats are held on Thursday evenings, usually around 8:30 EST, and last for 90 minutes or so. They are called “lrnchat” (pronounced “learn chat”), as that is the hashtag used on Twitter to mark the posts that make up the chat as such.
Typically, a lrnchat moderator asks a series of questions that people give their thoughts on, but others are of course free to raise other topics. It can be a little hard to track at times, but using the TweetChat.com site helps. I have found this discussion to be quite interesting. The one thing to keep in mind is that while you are intending your messages in this Twitter chat for the others participating, they will actually be visible to everyone who follows you on Twitter. So you might want to send out a brief tweet at the outset to warn people of this, so that those who follow you and aren’t interested know they can skip any of your messages that are marked with #lrnchat.
See the lrnchat blog for more information, and even transcripts of the discussions so far. And for some additional perspective on the LearnTrends event and the lrnchat Twitter discussions, see Tony Karrer’s insightful posting Learning Goals.
— Thomas Stone (Tom_Stone@elementk.com)