This is a thought I have been chewing on for a couple of months and am sharing here as a way of working it out a little more. So, fair warning, this is an incomplete idea. Please chip in with your own ideas – I realise I need the help.
A constant theme of conversation at two live events I attended in the last month or so was the future of live events themselves. Conference and exhibition organisers are probably thinking of nothing else. From my experience of conversation with learning professionals, there are few topics more pressing than the navigation of learning events in the hybrid workplace. Now that people cannot be reliably and consistently expected to spend time together in the same physical space what should our next steps be?
In the L&D world, the shape of the debate seems to centre on whatever is meant by hybrid delivery. I think this addresses the challenge of shifting from virtual (I still wince at that noun) to a mix of some remote participants and some in the same room, or more than one room, together. So, the story moves from the classroom, to the virtual classroom, to the hybrid classroom. The fresh challenge is designing and managing an event that is equally engaging for all, regardless of location.
There are plenty more qualified than I to address that delivery challenge. My only contribution, as yet, is to wonder whether how far it is a valuable course to navigate. Given the challenges and the lack of data to support experimentation, perhaps another route is more useful. If there is a performance problem to solve, a hybrid classroom may be an odd shaped tool? If the desire is to engage people, maybe look to events producers instead? A frown covers my brow at the thought of this, seemingly endless, quest for people to like spending time in these environments as much as they do/did ‘in the room’.
This opinion piece has an interesting model for conference organisers which may house a useful insight. The author suggests we take a lead from Netflix and the subscription model, along with the data to package and target with confidence. “Not another Netflix for learning crusade”, I hear you cry. Well, not really. Or not like that, anyway. The thrust here is that the benefits of these events might be better met beyond a such time bound model.
Rather than paying to attend a conference/exhibition for a couple of days, delegates would subscribe to a package of content, group activities, time with experts and packaged content. There is inspiration and new ideas, key note type time with high profile experts, networking potential and ongoing access to each over more extended time. These services could run for a few months perhaps, or an annual subscription might offer access to subject based themes. Exhibitors can sponsor and fund this activity in a similar manner to the current model. The challenge is to avoid calling them events and focus on the benefits of membership over time.
For learning, the value might be shifting the model from delivering to groups at the same time to packaging and choreographing the design of a common service over time to participants. There will be data required to target and manage the experience and to properly host such activity. We would need to look quite closely for signals of activity and interest and respond quickly to them, in the manner that digital marketers are familiar with. We would need to understand what participants are really interested in – what the real value is, and how will we know progress is being made towards it.
This is all quite different from designing and delivering an engaging hybrid event, yes. Perhaps that is the territory of events producers, if that is what people want. Learning as a service (or performance development as a service), arranged over time rather than place feels more achievable to me. It might also raise our efforts to support value realised over time and to create relationships with participants over time, whilst also facilitating their relationships with each other. A shift from attending to joining and from monitoring completion and satisfaction to attending to the signals of managing a relationship.