Above all, don’t compare it to in-person conferences; they’re two different animals, each with perks.
A big bonus of attending an online learning event is that you don’t have to get on a plane, travel across the country and be away from your family. Instead, you can learn—a lot—and then head back to the living room to help your kids with math homework.
I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about online learning events and the ways attendees can get the most out of them as I did my research for CUES about how to best offer our November and December online learning events. Here are some of my takeaways:
1. Make sure the language you’re using to describe your online learning gives full credit for its potential. The learning is “online”; it’s “digital”; but it’s not virtual, in the sense that it’s not a replacement for in-person learning. It’s just another way to learn and network. So, give your program of choice the linguistic respect it deserves! It’s still education whether you’re in a hotel ballroom, in your home office or on your couch.
2. Approach your online learning with the right frame of mind. Continuing my previous thought, make sure you approach online learning with the idea of learning—not comparing it to in-person learning. As credit unions amply demonstrated this spring, for the most part you don’t need to be in a certain building to do your job. Similarly, you don’t have to drink hotel coffee, lug your tote bag of branded swag, or sit right in front of the presenter to learn important and useful things.
3. Choose how you network with presenters and other attendees. One thing I’ve learned is that networking might look more like “engagement” during an online event. While you might wait until after the session to go up and ask the presenter a question in person, during online learning you might add a question to the chat instead. The cool part is that other attendees will likely be right there chatting with you! Also, be sure to look to see if the program offers online networking sessions with the speaker and other attendees outside of the main sessions. Without the cost of travel and lodging, your credit union can send more attendees to online learning. In addition, both Knowledge & Networking November and Directors & Dialogue December allow credit unions to send as many people as they want for one price. So, consider forming a group from your organization that’s prepared to discuss the presentations and chatted discussions—that can be done synchronously or later on after you have time to think it over. This can be a great way to make sure the learning sticks.
4. Look to learn from people you might not have previously been able to connect with. Echoing the idea that online learning is so cost effective and can make it possible for more people to be included, look to learn from people you haven’t met before, from parts of a credit union that are new to you. If you’re in marketing, you might be able to connect with staffers knowledgeable about IT or vice versa. If the event host offers an attendee list, be sure to leverage that as a networking tool.
5. Choose how you interact with vendors. For the introverts in the crowd, online exhibitor halls allow you to go in, unseen if you wish, and read up on sponsor information on your own. Or, you can go in during times the online booths are staffed and connect with a company rep.
Sara Dyer is director of executive education and meetings for CUES. In her role, she is responsible for the research, planning and execution of CUES’ conferences, seminars, and meetings. Previously, she served as the events & engagement manager at Member Loyalty Group, a member experience CUSO based in Chicago. She was also a member of the CU Water Cooler production team. Dyer has been in the credit union industry for almost 20 years, and enjoys creating memorable learning experiences. In her free time, she enjoys crochet, reading, and running her high schoolers to every music lesson, play rehearsal and school event they find.