Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Virtual Classroom: Virtually Imperfect

Recently, we attended the Virtual Edge Summit in Santa Clara California. We made the following observations:

  • There is a tremendous demand for "hybrid" events: conferences or training that occurs in-person and virtually. Sometimes together and simultaneously, sometimes separately and with a symbiotic relationship. This is driven by the demand for low-budget, internationally viable solutions AND the recognition of the ongoing value and effectiveness of face-to-face interactions. Personally, we're glad that we're not seeing much of an either-or opinion coming from the technology leaders. It's nice that the "real" classroom can co-exist in harmony with the virtual classroom.
  • There are a huge number of completely innovative solutions coming out for virtual conferences, trade shows, webinars, training sessions, etc. This includes streaming video at a rate unheard of in a virtual meeting space, 3-D rooms where participants can log in and "sit down", PowerPoints that stream along with a speaker along with a twitter feed and a chat feed and...well, anything else you'd want, really. It was downright inspiring to see what progress is being made and what new solutions are coming down the pipeline.
  • While virtual events and conferences have been around for over 5 years now, there's a lack of general knowledge in this area from the general populace. It seems like most people are just taking live presentations and putting them into a virtual tool instead of modifying them for a unique virtual situation. Part of this is ignorance; thinking that a web class is the same as an in-person class--save for the physical presence aspect. It's not.
And speaking of the last two points--the wide availability of solutions and the direct translation of in-person material to a virtual event, there was one thing that we *didn't* notice at the conference:


We're not talking about the emotion of the attendees, or just plain happy-sad-etc. expressions. We're talking about the effort to engage the attendees in an emotional experience within a webinar or web conference. Sure, virtual meeting spaces were designed to be pretty, streaming media was designed to add variety. But how do you keep participants engaged in a meaningful way when they're attending a session virtually?

AllPlay Web
was the only product of its kind there--the concept of playing a competitive game within a web conference (as opposed to simple polling) and getting to use teams was not only new to most attendees, but also tremendously popular.

Right now, we're looking at an industry not quite in its infancy, but rapidly growing in its youth. As people start to adopt virtual solutions in hybrid training and events, we look forward to being part of an incredible solution.

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