This is a guest post contributed by Web Courseworks.
One of the biggest benefits of joining a professional association is the continuing education (CE) opportunities membership provides. After joining an association, members are able and encouraged to meet with other professionals in their field and complete credits and certifications that will advance their careers and the industry overall.
Most commonly, this happens through in-person conferences and association events. These large experiences allow members to complete a wide-spanning curriculum over the course of a few days and walk away with new training or a certificate under their belts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for associations that once relied on providing such in-person educational experiences for members. With the mass cancellation of association events, members are no longer able to attend face-to-face CE experiences and, in turn, associations are struggling to generate the expected sponsor and non-dues revenue.
Because CE conferences are essential for both member and industry value alike, organizations have to provide these benefits to members in new and unique ways. That’s where virtual conferences come into play.
At Web Courseworks, we discuss the key elements to consider when taking your in-person association event to the virtual sphere. By using your existing technology, you will be able to offer a seamless experience to your members and a streamlined accreditation process.
Let’s explore a few keys to taking in-person CE experiences online:
- Experimenting with a variety of media types
- Providing new methods for learner communication and collaboration
- Expanding your video use beyond Webinars
- Incorporating the exhibition experience
- Managing the event in one comprehensive platform
Let’s dive in to learn more about virtual learning events.
Experimenting with a Variety of Media Types
When your association holds a CE event, you’re able to provide a range of educational experiences. Speaker presentations, concept demonstrations, assessments, exhibition halls, breakout sessions—each is a valuable conduit of association member education.
Once upon a time, online education consisted of a handful of slideshows with a droning voice overlay. There was little interaction or member engagement. When you think of transitioning your engaging in-person educational conferences to droning slideshows, digital learning may not sound like an appealing option.
However, there are ways to make your virtual learning experiences just as engaging as place-based versions. The key is to incorporate a variety of media types in your digital learning environment.
Get creative when translating your in-person events to digital media with the following approaches:
- Social learning and gamification elements
Foster a sense of community and healthy competition across your learners by encouraging them to collaborate and compete with one another.
- Video and animated elements
Instead of presenting all information in a text-filled, rolling slideshow, consider providing demonstrations and examples with video and other types of animated elements.
- Supplementary text elements
While you shouldn’t rely on text-heavy educational materials alone, it’s always a good idea to provide transcripts and additional text information to help learners navigate courses.
- Responsive assessments
While assessments may be required for members to navigate your courses, they don’t have to be a boring experience. Consider making assessments dynamic, so they respond to the knowledge of your learners as they progress.
- Digital breakout sessions
Encourage members to work together as they navigate your coursework by creating processes for digital breakout sessions. This could be as simple as opening topical discussion boards.
Digital learning can be just as engaging as in-person educational experiences. If you incorporate variety into your digital educational offerings, your learners will find them just as fulfilling as your in-person offerings.
Providing New Methods for Learner Communication and Collaboration
One of the biggest challenges you may encounter when transitioning to online events involves communication.
During a place-based event, members are able to speak easily to one another, session leaders, keynote speakers, and your association’s leadership. When questions arise or new insights are discovered, these can be shared across your association’s community in real time.
That’s a difficult environment to replicate with virtual events. Suddenly, each member is completing the course or session from their own home, using their own laptop, and is physically distanced from other members.
Luckily, there are a few ways to duplicate the benefits of in-person communication and collaboration in digital learning experiences:
- Set up an ongoing communication line.
Ensure members can provide feedback and ask your association staff questions whenever they arise with an integrated e-mail or chat function.
- Incorporate live Q&As and polling.
When you host a session, consider facilitating live questions and answers and incorporating live polling. Members can provide real-time feedback and get their questions answered, just as they might have during a live speaker presentation.
- Make the most of virtual meetings.
Equip members with the tools they need to organize one-on-one meetings with one another, speakers and presenters, and even your association’s leadership. This is helpful if there are any questions or topics of conversation that can’t be handled with a quick, one-off live question.
- Host virtual breakout sessions and “study halls.”
Create breakout sessions where members can gather virtually and discuss topics from the curriculum. This could be held using discussion boards, virtual chat rooms, or even video conferencing software.
Giving members the opportunity to stay in regular communication ensures they’re able to get the most out of your digital learning experience.
Expanding Your Video Use Beyond Webinars
There’s often a misconception that when people speak about video use in virtual events, they’re automatically referring to Webinars.
While Webinars are a popular way to incorporate video content into virtual events, there’s much more you can do with video than sharing pre-recorded slideshows paired with a voice-over.
We encourage you to consider the full range of video content you can incorporate into your digital education experience, including the following:
- Speaker panels
If you’re planning any panels as part of your in-person educational event, understand that you can still do that online. Simply use Web conferencing software and have each speaker participate from the comfort of their own homes. Then, broadcast their video conference feed to your larger event audience.
- Live Q&A sessions
Host sessions specifically designed to foster interaction between session presenters and association members. Schedule specific times when your presenters will broadcast and encourage members to watch live and submit their questions to be answered.
- Video demonstrations
If the coursework you’re trying to convey is highly visual, consider tasking presenters with providing a video tutorial for members. If you’re teaching CPR, will your members learn better through text describing how to perform the act or a video of a presenter walking them through the process?
Video is a powerful tool when it comes to taking the in-person continuing education experience digital, but only if you make the most of it.
Incorporating the Exhibit Experience
Beyond the speakers and breakout sessions, the tradeshow component of a conference is equally crucial. Exhibitors and industry suppliers are some of the best resources to learn more about the current business climate. Not only that, but the exhibit experience also allows attendees to discover the latest products and services necessary to stay competitive in today’s environment.
When you host a virtual educational conference for your association, try to preserve the exhibit experience as much as possible.
Incorporate virtual exhibits into your digital continuing education event, with features like the following:
- Virtual booths branded to each exhibitor
Ask each exhibitor to provide virtual branding resources that you can attach to their Web page “booth.” When a member navigates to a booth, it should feel similar to when they’d walk up to an exhibitor in person.
- Downloadable resources
Attach downloadable informational resources provided by the exhibitor to the virtual “booth.” This is the digital equivalent of a member walking away from a place-based booth, brochure in hand.
- Live chat between exhibitors and interested association members
Allow members to contact the virtual exhibitor directly through their “booth” with live chat features.
Even though you can’t gather in one exhibition hall, that doesn’t mean you can’t share information about sponsors and exhibitors with members. And, as you’re about to see, there’s even technology that can help your association accomplish all of this and more.
Managing the Event in One Comprehensive Platform
While the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the move from in-person association events to digital iterations, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to do so. Creating the infrastructure to support such a large effort as a virtual educational conference—where you’re accommodating a high volume of members, speakers, and course content—is difficult even in the most steady of landscapes, let alone during a global pandemic.
What we’ve seen across the e-learning community is an increase in creativity and innovation to help associations pull off this mammoth task. In particular, we’ve seen the rise of virtual conference software that can accommodate all of the strategies mentioned in this article and more.
With virtual conference software, your association can offer a unified experience to attendees by doing the following:
- Create an easily navigable conference lobby branded to your association’s upcoming event.
- Create accounts for all members that will be attending your event for easily administered access.
- Host educational sessions, whether webinars or live broadcasts.
- Create a virtual exhibit hall, design virtual exhibitor pages, and facilitate networking opportunities.
Further, you’re able to do all of this in one platform. Instead of coordinating multiple software solutions, your entire event is contained and managed from one source.
To learn more about how associations can make the most of software tools, check out this Web Courseworks guide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for associations that once relied on in-person continuing education events to provide value to members. The current landscape will have implications for the future of online learning. Associations that master virtual learning now will be ahead of the game in the long run.
While the pivot to digital events may be a big change for your association, we believe that there are ways to replicate the benefits of in-person learning through digital means. Soon enough, you’ll be providing educational experiences online that are just as effective as those you would provide in-person!
For more information to help your association host its next virtual conference, explore this virtual events resources page.
This is a guest post contributed by Web Courseworks.
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