Educating Virtually in 2021

As 2021 progresses, we are all feeling the collective desire for things to go “back to normal.” The COVID vaccine is quickly being distributed around the globe, and many are hoping that we’ll soon be returning to all the things we did pre-pandemic. For some, this includes hosting and attending in-person conferences and events.

We’ve fielded a myriad of questions from clients and prospects about what the rest of 2021 is going to look like, and the truth is, we really don’t know. None of us has a crystal ball, but what we can do is give insight into 6 areas we’ve been tracking when it comes to education for the remainder of 2021. 

1) Virtual is Here to Stay

No matter what happens in the next three, six, or nine months, after a year of virtual events, online education, and conferences, a virtual component for education will continue to be expected by your attendees. Given ongoing travel bans and varying comfort levels when it comes to individual health and safety, there will be plenty of people who’ll decide it’s too early to convene, even if you can have an in-person event. Add to this the additional planning challenges that come with stringent room capacity limits and restrictions on large networking activities, and your audience may still opt for the virtual choice. 

2) In-Person Events Won’t Look the Same

…at least for a while. Think about all the safety precautions in your day-to-day life right now. Plexiglass partitions, outdoor-only dining and services, the wearing of masks, and social distancing have changed what our physical space really means and how we approach each other’s wellbeing. With these necessary precautions in place, an in-person event will not include rooms packed with people, bustling lunch buffets, or standard networking events or parties anytime soon. So even if your attendees feel comfortable traveling, they may not be ready for the physical requirements and limitations of an in-person event.

3) Don’t Leave Your Virtual Learners Behind

We hope that going virtual in 2020 enabled you to expand your reach to people who may not have attended your in-person conference even before the pandemic. In fact, we sometimes saw attendance levels triple with the advent of virtual-only conferences this year. You don’t want to lose these new learners by no longer offering a virtual component. Whether you go in-person this year or next, consider the virtual experience as a standard part of your education and engagement plan.

4) Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

In addition to expanding your reach, offering virtual education allows you to be more flexible. For instance, a standard in-person event may be three, four, or even five full days. A virtual event could be a series of shorter days or sessions over an entire month or quarter, which in turn could expand your potential touchpoints and increase value to your learners. Diversifying your offerings in this way can attract even those who feel that they don’t have the time to attend conferences and events.

5) Help Limit Surprises

If you plan to stay 100% virtual with your education plan in 2021, there’s no time wasted worrying about how changing restrictions, shutdowns, or travel bans will affect your events. If you’re planning to at least have a virtual component, you’re in a good place for transitioning to 100% virtual, if necessary. Limiting the surprises this year is a great way to get ahead of the curve.

6) The New Normal

Things always change, and we know that we’ll go back to a more “normal” way of life soon. But that doesn’t mean going back to the old way of doing things. Collective attitudes and priorities have changed, and people have adapted to living very different lives while at home, working remotely, and embracing new modes of learning. While in-person conferences, weddings, dinner parties, and travel will return, people have also embraced virtual events, online learning, delivery services, not commuting, and spending more time at home. Organizations will continue to look at their budgets, and re-evaluate travel and conference spending, realizing that learners can get education and engagement from the comfort of their own homes or offices.

Whatever you decide about in-person events this year, we encourage the continuation of virtual options in your organization’s plan for education.

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