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Build Better Virtual Events & Training For Your Agency

As attendees settled into their chairs, hastily grabbing coffee and tea from the refreshments table, an unspoken question lingered in the air. Over 200 people attended yesterday’s in-person conference, “Build Better Virtual Events & Training for Your Agency,” presented by GovLoop and ON24. And to the relief of the crowd, the question was immediately addressed in the conference’s opening remarks: “I understand the inescapable irony of this event. Why are we here instead of doing this virtually,” gamely asked Andrew Krzmarzick, Director of Training & Development at GovLoop. In many ways, this conference represented a kind of Swan song for government in-person training events, as the latest numbers reveal. Last year, budgets for government training and travel were reduced by as much as 80 percent. Meanwhile, although 66 percent of public sector survey respondents noted that they prefer in-person events, 90 percent believe that they will attend virtual events in the future.

Given the fiscal realities and personal preferences of potential attendees, there is an imperative to make virtual events as compelling, instructional and interactive as in-person events. The technology is there, but how do you use it to design the best program to maximize participation and learning? This was the focus of yesterday’s gathering.

In the spirit of virtual learning, the following links provide access to digital copies of the guides distributed at the conference.

- GovLoop Resource Guide: Building Better Conferences and Training

- ON24 eBook: Virtual Learning for Dummies

For those who were not able to attend, the following is a condensed recap of yesterday’s proceedings. For those who want more information, please download the above guides, and check back soon for a link to the archived video recording of the event.

Opening Keynote: A Strategic Perspective and Vision for the Future

“Coming together in a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”

– Henry Ford

These words perfectly capture the theme of the opening keynote. Delivered by Randy Bergquist, Assistant Director of Learning and Workforce Development at the Department of Justice and Chair of the Interagency Chief Learning Officer Council, the keynote emphasized the need for interagency collaboration across the federal government. Bergquist provided a brief history of training in the federal government, noting that the title ‘Chief Learning Officer’ did not even exist 15 years ago. Since then, the emphasis has shifted from simply ‘training’ employees to instilling a culture of ‘learning,’ which spans across individual agencies. The ultimate goal is to leverage cost effective learning opportunities that promote high performance and that that can be implemented throughout the federal government, which provides a window of opportunity for virtual learning that would not exist for in-person events. Virtual events are replicable, provide a platform for sharing information and best practices, and are much easier to scale up. Virtual event also closely align with the goals of the Chief Learning Officer Council, such as increasing efficiencies by reducing redundancies and expanding access to learning and development across the federal government.

Expert Panel: Real Life Examples of Virtual Event Hosting

The conference also featured a number of recent case studies, two of which are highlighted below.

Jim Byrne of ON24 discussed the needs of a client, the Lewin Group, which needed deliver webcasts to hospitals for transitioning patients to home care. They went virtual because they needed a faster way to deliver new information to employees and partners. In the initial pilot, attendees had greater program acceptance, higher scores and better attendance than any event held in the last 10 years.

Key Takeaway: A key benefit of virtual training is the ability to analyze the effectiveness of the session in real-time. “Often, the trainee doesn’t know how well they are doing, which direction they need to go, or how their progress at a specific moment the training or certification process,” Byrne said. This has changed with the introduction of virtual or electronic learning. “In this kind of environment, there is no reason why you can’t get that information in real time,” Byrne added.

Andrew Krzmarzick discussed a GovLoop pilot program initiated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The pilot was designed to test the efficacy of using web-based social learning techniques (such as blogs, social networks and online discussion forums) for federal government employee professional development. OPM selected a Department of Defense course entitled “Performance Management for HR Practitioners,” and Krzmarzick’s team transformed the 2-day in-person event into six web-based modules presented to attendees over the course of six weeks. The results were impressive: Each week’s discussion session recorded an average of 60 comments, 86 percent of attendees indicated that the class met its learning objectives, and 75 percent reported that the information presented in the course was useful for their jobs.

Key Takeaway: Active facilitation is key to generating a robust discussion and fostering interaction. Krzmarzick and his team built into the course opportunities at every corner to draw people out and get them engaged, especially during discussion sessions. “We really encouraged them to either interact each other through moderation,” Krzmarzick noted.

Closing Keynote: If Not Now, When?

Miguel Joey Aviles, Talent Management Strategist at the Department of Defense & Chief Learning Officer of the Young Government Leaders organization, closed out the conference with a fiery exhortation to embrace new technologies and use them to disrupt the old ways of doing things. Aviles had five strategies to use virtual learning to disrupt your agencies:

  1. “Get married to the big picture:” Your plan should capture the overall strategies of your organization. They won’t be successful in a silo or vacuum.
  2. “Involve the user:” E-learning requires strategic planning and careful implementation. It can’t be done in the basement.
  3. “Leverage resources:” Echoing Bergquist, Aviles stressed the importance of sharing knowledge and content across agencies and functional areas.
  4. “Human side of learning:” Just because you are using machines doesn’t mean you have to think like one.
  5. “You’ve got talent:” You have subject matter experts all over your offices – use them to spread learning.

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