The conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008, commonly abbreviated “learntrends”, the second conference of its kind, took place entirely online from November 17 till 21, 2000. On top of being an online conference, it was a free event.
Jay Cross, Tony Karrer, and George Siemens were the main organizers of this conference and had put a great program together with well-known speakers who shared their knowledge, experience, tips, and insights.
Although the conference focused on corporate learning, I could relate to the issues discussed because in many ways they are not different from the ones that are faced in higher education. There it can also be difficult to sustain communities of practice, introduce new technology to improve workflows, and convince others of the benefits of using certain technologies. Of course always under the premise of what I want to achieve and not of which tool I want to use. Content and people come first. Only then are tools selected.
The conference always ran from 8 a.m. till 1 p.m. Pacific Time which was perfect because that translated to 5 p.m. till 10 p.m. for me. Sometimes I did have trouble making it to the first session, but otherwise I tried to keep my evenings free to follow the sessions.
I realized though that my conference attendance differed from face-to-face conferences. That was also noted in the wrap-up on Friday. I did not really take time out to attend the conference as I would during a face-to-face one. I did not even ask for time off, but squeezed it into my regular work day. Tony Karrer’s words during the wrap-up resonate with me (I’m paraphrazing): when at a regular conference, we do work on the side, while at an online conference, we tend to do the conference on the side. That, of course, poses problems as participants came late to sessions or had to leave early to attend to work matters, or just stayed for the official sessions and then left not hanging around in Elluminate.
Socializing is certainly more difficult during an online conference because one cannot flock to the refreshment tables and struck up a conversation, there is no welcome reception etc. One has to be more creative to get the attention of others. I have seen a number of “Let’s exchange email addresses and talk about that later” during presentations when a discussion in the backchannel was getting too far away from the original content.
However, connections can be made. Some participants were quick in finding others on Twitter through the common hashtag “learntrends” and added them to their Twitter contacts. Others used the dedicated Ning site to connect to each other. This site will stay open for discussions allowing for continuing exchange. Yet others tagged links that appeared in the backchannel in Delicious and so on.
Furthermore, it was nice to “see” people I knew from other contexts, mainly CCK08, at this conference. Thus, I felt not so alone altough I sat in front of the computer by myself. Just reading familiar names and saying the occassional “Hello” was a good thing.
I was amazed at how George Siemens, Jay Cross, and Tony Karrer set up this conference basically by themselves. There were some volunteers and some tech support, but other than that they did it by themselves. And what is even more amazing, the entire conference cost them less than 60 US$. True, it would have cost more if an Elluminate license had to be purchased. But other than that no costs.
As I already mentioned earlier, I struggled between work and conference not taking time out for the latter to be more fully engaged. Furthermore, I realized again, as already during live CCK08 sessions, that I am not very good at multitasking because I need to focus to fully comprehend what’s going on. Following a presentation, keeping an eye on the text chat and participating in there is not really my cup of tea. Some presenters like Nancy White were brilliant at that and had mastered the skill of thinking, talking, following the backchannel and responding to it at the same time.
I did not want to not follow the chat, however, as interesting comments were made, references listed etc. The text chat added a great dimension to the presentations sometimes going into greater detail for a specific point mentioned or taking off into a different though related subject matter that proved interesting. Thankfully, all sessions were recorded and are accessible from the conference site. That’s the beauty of such an online event: a recording can be created fairly easily if the tools allow that, and it can be made available even to those who could not participate. Many face-to-face conferences still lag behind session recordings a lot.
Coming back to the heading of this post “Learntrends = trendy learning”, I say: Yes. However, I still like physical conferences for the buzzing atmosphere that I can only attempt to feel in front of a 15.4″ screen, for the socializing parts though I need to work on my smalltalk skills, and for being able to focus my attention better during presentations. During this online conference, participants were more active than during normal sessions I think because we had the backchannel in which questions were posted, answers provided and that already during the presentations. One did not have to wait until the last few minutes to ask questions, but could do that the entire time. Moderators monitored the chat and passed the questions along to the presenters. And even if I could not make it to a session, there was still the recording and I could follow up easily.
Thus, an online conference is a trendy way to learn, to participate in a discussion with fellow conference participants and presenters, and it is a great alternative to physical conferences.
Thank you very much, George, Jay, and Tony for organizing this event. I’m looking forward to next year.
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