How to Make Effective Use of Technology for Online Conferences

Written by Brie Barker on May 7, 2018

Developed and hosted by Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele of Tagoras, the annual Learning ● Technology ● Design (LTD) event is an online conference designed for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development. The goal of the event is to help attendees find new and better ways to engage learners and create lasting impact through technology.

I was invited to attend the conference by AssociationSuccess.org free of charge, in return for writing an article about it. I’ve decided to focus on examining how effectively Tagoras made use of technology.

Key Underlying Concept

Whether you’re in a classroom environment or in an online environment, adult learning principles don’t change. The technology you utilize has to embrace and leverage these principles if you want participants to learn. It’s not just the technology you use but how you use it. For the LTD conference, Tagoras nailed this.

The Platform

To maximize engagement, participants should be able to access every nook and cranny of an online conference from the homepage. You need to make it really easy for participants to find their way around. If someone finds it confusing to navigate, they’ll get frustrated.

Homepage

Here’s what the homepage for LTD looked like:

Tagoras home page

First of all, they used this prime piece of real estate to set the tone of the event with the idea of community. This puts participants in a mindset that calls for engagement, which the paragraph text reinforces. There are also specific components of the LTD homepage that emphasize the notion of community and community learning.

For example, take the left sidebar that uses the word, My. As a participant, this gives me a sense of personal involvement and ownership, which will increase my overall engagement. This personalization is reinforced by the items on the top right, my name and headshot. This says, “This is for you.”

The top menu bar focuses on content and the other participants. Clicking on Live Sessions and Recordings will take you to the same place as My Sessions and My Recordings on the left sidebar. Having two ways to reach the meat of the content is helpful.

Live Sessions

All of the content originated through the live sessions. From a structural standpoint, you need the technology that delivers this content to be:

  • Easily accessible – PC/Mac, any browser
  • Reliable – it’s going to work all the time
  • User-friendly – even my mom can figure it out (lovely person, many skills, NOT tech-savvy! xo)

Tagoras used Zoom for their live sessions. This is the only technology that was external to the main platform and it was a good choice. It hits all of the structural checkmarks and has a lot of video/audio options that the host can easily configure and change on the fly. For example, for one session, Tagoras invited participants to share their video stream so we could see the faces and hear the voices of the people we had interacted with through the chat feature in Zoom and the forums. This encouraged relationship-building.

Recordings

Not only is providing participants with access to recordings of the live sessions convenient, it also helps the learning have a long lasting effect. Click on a link and the video you selected automatically launches in a new window through Amazon S3, a service described as, “Object storage built to store and retrieve any amount of data from anywhere.” From my experience, Amazon S3 easily accessible, reliable and user-friendly.

Through Tagoras’ own server, you can also download slides, handouts and a full transcript of the session’s chat. The chat transcript is great, as it captures additional, meaningful content shared by participants. However, it’s provided as a .txt file, which is unfriendly to the eyes for reading.

Tagoras has made it easy to revisit content or visit it for the first time if you missed the live sessions. This is a solid, passive way to provide an avenue for participants who want to deepen and cement their learning.

The Forums

While the use of forums in online conferences is common, I’m usually not that active in them. However, Tagoras did several things that had me and other attendees participating in them:

  • In the live sessions, the hosts encouraged people to participate in the forums and made reference to specific posts and their authors. The forums felt like an extension of the live sessions, not something separate.
  • The platform was structured so you could choose to be notified by email when someone contributed to a specific topic.
  • They set the number of topics to eight, a number low enough to feel easily navigable. The topics reflected those that were in the curriculum.
  • The hosts contributed to the forum conversations as peers, emphasizing the notion of community learning.

Gamification

The purpose of gamification is to increase engagement through friendly competition. The best use of gamification also reinforces a key element of the program.

Tagoras used gamification to increase participation in the forums through the LTD Leaderboard. Participants were awarded points each time they started a new conversation in a forum or contributed a new post.

For me, I can honestly say that my forum contributions came from a place of generosity; I an also honestly say that I kept checking the Leaderboard to see what place I was in. My ego is proud to tell you that I came in 3rd place with 490 points!

The Leaderboard showed the ten most active forum contributors and we were all fairly close together in points. Except for Jack, who amassed 2855 points. I believe Jack must be a bot of some sort – I love and hate you, Jack!

Boosting

Tagoras created LTD 2018 Boosting as an active way of helping the learning have a lasting impact . If you opted in, you got this email:

Tagoras email

This after-component of the LTD conference is powered by SurveyMonkey. The first question is designed to see what you’ve retained since the end of the conference. If you get the answer wrong, it gives you a hint. After you submit your second answer, the correct answer is revealed, along with relevant content from the conference.

The second question asks you to reflect on something specific and how you might put it into action. SurveyMonkey is typically used just to get information from someone, but Tagoras is using it to give something. Nicely done.

Closing Thoughts:

If you’re developing an online learning program for your association members, the 2018 annual Learning ● Technology ● Design conference provides great examples of how to use technology to effectively engage learners and create lasting impact.