edtech virtual conference

[Guest Blog] Are virtual conferences worth your time?

Author: Terry Freedman

Terry freedman is a freelance ed tech writer and consultant. He blogs at ICT & Computing in Education, and tweets as @terryfreedman.


It’s good that although many conferences have had to be cancelled, or at least deferred indefinitely, some have transitioned to being online. However, are such events worth your money or your time?

To answer that question you really need to be able to answer a series of other questions. Let’s go through these now.

Will there be opportunities for networking?

One of the main benefits of a “real-life” conference is the ability to network with other delegates. Indeed, it’s not such a flippant comment to say that sometimes the most important parts of any conference are the tea and lunch breaks. 

Some online conferences build in networking as part of their timetabling. Other events may afford opportunities for making new contacts in a less formal way. For example, if the event is being held over Zoom, will the room be open before the start? Fifteen minutes can be useful for getting to know other participants.

Will there be opportunities to ask questions?

Another essential aspect of conferences is the chance to ask the speakers questions. After all, each speaker has been invited onto the podium because they’re acknowledged as an expert in their field. Therefore, being able to ask them a question is tremendously valuable.

Will the sessions be recorded?

There may be data protection reasons that the sessions cannot be recorded. However, if they are, will you have access to those recordings afterwards? Some online conferences offer a tiered structure, such as a small fee to have access to the recordings for a limited period of time, and a larger fee to have permanent access. 

Will the slides be made available?

More often than not, presentation slides on their own are fairly useless, especially if, rather than having text, they have pictures. However, they may act as an aid-memoire and in that way supplement your own notes from the event.

Is the conference fee cost-effective?

In normal circumstances, attending a conference usually involves a whole separate layer of additional costs: travelling time, fares, and possibly food and accommodation. A virtual conference allows you to do other work right up to just a few minutes before you need to get online, and with none of the other costs mentioned.

What other “compensations” are there?

I think most people would agree that in spite of the time- and money-saving aspects of attending a conference online compared to attending a physical one, they’re not as good. Even with networking opportunities built-in, you don’t necessarily enjoy the serendipitous chats over a cup of coffee. Therefore it’s pertinent to ask if there are any additional things on offer that go some way towards making up for that.

For example, is there a delegates-only Facebook or Linkedin group? Will there be a special conference price for speakers’ books, in the form of a code to apply at the virtual checkout?

Ultimately, as with all cost-benefit analyses, only you and your colleagues can judge whether the potential advantages of a particular virtual conference outweigh the disadvantages of not attending at all.


Terry Freedman

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter @terryfreedman.

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