For many associations, the highlight of 2021 has been the return of in-person events and conferences. So how do you keep learners engaged? Whether it’s an exclusively on-site event or a hybrid event that combines in-person and virtual elements, organizations that depend on such gatherings for revenue and networking have been eager to chart a course to the “next normal.”
But the circumstances of the last 18 months have had a profound impact on member engagement. In a Community Brands study of association trends for 2020, 39 percent of members said they’re interacting more with their professional organization following the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of those members, online training and events have been among the best ways to build community and share information.
Maintaining Engaged Learning
One of the challenges now facing organizations is maintaining engaged learning as in-person events begin to return. At the core of this problem is a long-simmering tension between the types of learning options association members are looking for and the ones association professionals prioritize. Although 62 percent of members point to earning credits and certifications toward continuing learning as the most important benefit of association membership, many industry professionals remain focused on in-person learning, which by its very nature impacts a smaller audience.
The return of in-person events, then, poses a significant risk for associations if they fail to accommodate the needs of online learners. If they put too much focus on on-site sessions and plan events without considering how they might incorporate virtual attendees, it will be difficult to keep those members engaged over time. An entirely in-person event also leaves a potentially lucrative revenue stream untapped. Just because roughly half of the organizations that hosted virtual events in 2020 made no efforts to monetize them doesn’t mean that a hybrid event can’t be a source of non-dues revenue.
Engaged Learning for Hybrid Events
Creating an engaging hybrid event requires more than simply rebroadcasting a recording of learning sessions and speaker presentations. Event organizers need to think about how they can use interactive tools to create a virtual component that is every bit as engaging as the in-person experience to maintain engaged learning experiences online.
Thanks to sophisticated on-site event capture tools, associations can easily broadcast live learning events to virtual attendees. Scheduling live hybrid events helps to create a sense of excitement around learning sessions and workshops. The results are even better when organizers plan the event knowing that there will be both in-person and virtual participants. This allows presenters to take a more inclusive approach that doesn’t make virtual attendees feeling like an afterthought.
Interactivity is a big part of helping people feel like they’re part of an event. Asking virtual learners to do little more than passively watch a video won’t do much to improve engagement. Fortunately, online learning tools make it easy to add interactive features to webinars, webcasts, and on-demand courses. Whether it’s adding a chat that encourages participants to interact, implementing a live Q&A with a moderator, or simply adding checkpoints and questions to hold attention, associations have multiple tools for crafting an engaging virtual experience during a hybrid event.
Online learners have come to expect flexibility from continuing education programs, so it’s no surprise that they want the same from a hybrid event. One of the advantages of preparing to deliver live event programming is that sessions can be easily rebroadcast at later times for anyone who was unable to attend live. Another benefit of rebroadcasting is that it offers more interactivity options to promote better engagement. A moderator can manage a chat or Q&A during the scheduled rebroadcast to encourage interaction and even guide discussion based on the material.
Connecting with virtual learners during a hybrid event is an excellent opportunity to provide them with the type of continuing education resources they’re most likely to find appealing. While they may not be able to attend sessions in-person, they can readily access additional learning materials connected to them. For instance, a session might have an entire learning pathway that consists of multiple related courses bundled together. Virtual learners can be notified of these special tracks when they sign up for a session, which will encourage them to engage with additional content beyond live or rebroadcast event sessions.
Finding the Right Platform for Engaged Learning at Hybrid Events
Associations typically turn to complex LMS platforms to deliver online learning materials, but those systems often make it difficult to quickly and easily capture live events and schedule them for rebroadcasts or on-demand access. Speed and convenience are paramount when it comes to engaging online learners, so associations need a platform streamlined enough to rapidly turn their live event sessions into accessible course content.
Freestone was designed to meet the specific needs of associations that deliver high volumes of live and on-demand programming. In addition to featuring a variety of interactivity tools and a streamlined, easy-to-manage interface, the platform can serve as a centralized learning hub for hybrid events that quickly and easily connects learners to engaging content. Our on-site production staff works closely with event planners to capture core elements of in-person sessions and make sure that presenters and learners alike have a great user experience.
With its ability to issue and track credits for continuing education, Freestone can also help in-person learners connect to learning resources associated with event activities. Whether they’re catching a session they missed, exploring related learning content, or reviewing a course they’ve already attended, learners can use Freestone to access material from a hybrid event long after it’s over. Converting event content into on-demand learning materials is just one more way to promote engagement and continue delivering value to association members.
Find out how easy it is to deliver interactive and impactful learning materials with Freestone by signing up for a guided demo. We’ll walk you through the features and capabilities to show you how quickly you could be turning your hybrid event into the cornerstone of a content library that keeps your members engaged year-round.