How was your conference? How was the backchannel?

by Viv Cole on September 19, 2012

At #learning live last week Don Taylor invited us to think about what’s the biggest change that we’ve seen in our experience of L&D. Zooming in on conferences, certainly one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the past couple of years is the introduction of a “backchannel” which normally takes the form of a Twitter hashtag that participants are encouraged to use. This is a 10th to add to my 9 ways of designing better conferences.

The backchannel is not that new as a concept  – most virtual classrooms have included one for years – it’s just that Twitter has made it easy and free to have one. So rather than passively being lectured at, participants can be sharing their notes of key points, posing questions and pointing out useful URLs. Whilst this is open to blatant sales pitches or the school classroom equivalent of passing notes under desk, generally groups are pretty astute at filtering these out and self-policing.

One of the side effects of having a conference hashtag is that other Twitter users can join in the discussion from afar. #learninglive had the distinction of being top trending hashtag on Twitter on day 2 of the conference. Whilst there may not be many occasions when participating from afar will unearth learning gold, it gives some benefit without the time and cost of attending (and a flavour of the conference that can be used in marketing of future events).

Another side effect is that you end up with a patchwork quilt of points from the day which you can learn from as part of reflecting on the day.

However don’t assume that simply providing a conference hashtag will generate a thriving backchannel – it takes a level of confidence and practice  for people to feel comfortable that their contributions are worth sharing. Consider whether you need a designated tweeter for the session who can prompt discussions and moderate anything that needs moderating – possibly also a major comfort factor for the presenter if the tweets are getting displayed on a screen in the conference.

A good place for learning professionals to get into the swing of tweeting about work-related matters is #chat2lrn recently had a tweet-up about backchannels and a here’s some more comment on backchannels.

And a shameless plug , if you can’t make it to the next eLearning Network event where I’m speaking about best practice in using audio in e-learning, do follow the action on our usual hashtag: #elnevent

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