Martin Couzins looks at how social media can be used to take part in learning and development (L&D) conferences across the globe.
Last week, the Learning Solutions exhibition and conference took place in Orlando, Florida. The conference programme focused on how technology could help organisations to deliver learning, and there were lots of experienced speakers sharing insights and tips.
But for those UK L&D professionals who were unable to make the trip, was this just another conference they could gain nothing from and passed them by without notice?
Not at all. For many of the bigger international L&D conferences, social media is enabling viewing, participation and sharing of conferences from afar.
There is no need to be there in person, as you can now catch the mood, follow updates and talk to those who are in the room as the conference sessions unfold from anywhere in the world. You can also connect with people attending or following the conference to grow your own professional/learning network.
Learning Solutions was a great example of a conference that was very much open for business for the delegates in the room, as well as those following the event from around the globe.
Using Twitter, anyone interested in the conference could follow the event backchannel. David Kelly, a US-based training director and internal learning and performance consultant, has written a great blog post describing how backchannels work.
In his post, Kelly sums up what the backchannel is all about: "You're sitting in a conference listening to the speaker, and the person next to you appears to be more interested in their mobile phone than in what the presenter is saying. Then as you look around, you realise that there are plenty of others that are typing away at their BlackBerry, iPad or laptop - all while the speaker is presenting."
Kelly says that, while years ago this sort of activity would have be seen as rude and disrespectful to the person speaking, quite often, in today's technology-driven environment, this scene can actually show the exact opposite.
He explains: "In some cases, it may simply be that the notes that were once taken on paper are now being taken electronically. What's taking place in increasingly large numbers is that people are going beyond just note taking, and have begun to interact with the information being discussed in new ways."
How to participate from afar
In the build-up to the conference, Kelly shared a post on how to participate in a conference without actually being there.
He advises getting set up on Twitter in advance of a conference in order to become comfortable with the technology and to gain an understanding of how to use hashtags, as many L&D conferences now have unique hashtags on Twitter.
Once the conference was underway, Kelly started to pull together resources from the event. These resources were incredibly useful for L&D professionals, whether they were there in person or not.
Kelly gathered together around 100 resources that featured speaker presentations, summaries from delegates and tools used or mentioned at the conference. The list of resources is regularly updated by Kelly.
He explains: "The backchannel is an excellent resource for learning from a conference or event that you are unable to attend in person. I find collecting and reviewing backchannel resources to be a valuable learning experience for me, even when I am attending a conference in person."
Twitter is key to following conferences and participating in the backchannel. If you need further convincing that Twitter is an effective tool for professional development, then I would recommend taking a look at Jane Hart's post on the topic.
Over the last few years, Hart has been running an annual list of the top 100 tools for L&D, in which Twitter was voted number one for the last three years running by L&D practitioners.
On that note, if you can't make it to April's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) HRD conference, then make sure you follow it on Twitter - more information on doing so is available on the CIPD website.