COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives this year. But in July, in spite of all the upheaval, the All India Oracle Users Group (AIOUG) still managed to hold its annual Oracle Groundbreakers Yatra conference. By moving the event online, the organizers were able to present more than 100 sessions in 14 days, offering over 125 hours of learning, plus networking with 100+ speakers from more than two dozen countries.
COVID-19 has made virtual learning the new normal. I know not everyone is happy about this but, to be honest, I love virtual webinars. They offer benefits you just can’t get from live events, including:
- The very best subject matter experts. Many people who deserve the title of “expert” can’t afford the time it takes to travel to a live event. But when organizers are running a virtual conference, they can invite experts from anywhere in the world, and make them available to the audience at almost any time.
- Savings in time and money. Online conferences give me all the learning of a live event without the cost of travel, food and accommodations. Plus, attending virtually means my time commitment is measured in hours instead of days.
- Learning without intimidation. Not everyone is comfortable asking questions in front of a large crowd. Online learning is a great equalizer, and anyone can raise a virtual hand to ask a question without feeling shy. These events have made it easy for me to connect with speakers and grow my network through LinkedIn and Twitter.
But we should also talk about the things that make virtual events less than ideal. During the OG Yatra conference, Oracle’s Jim Grisanzio listed some major drawbacks of the online experience:
- There’s no human contact. When your speaker is present only virtually, it’s easy to get distracted and end up learning nothing at all.
- It’s boring. Virtual presentations lack eye contact, real-time exchanges, and audience reactions that help to keep us engaged with the material.
- It’s stressful. As countless teachers have discovered during the pandemic, the attention span for online learning is much shorter than it is for the live classroom experience.
There’s no doubt that virtual learning presents real challenges. But as someone who has grown to actually prefer online events, I’m happy to offer some practical tips to help you make the most of virtual webinars and learning:
- Don’t be greedy. Don’t sign up for every session. You’ll end up exhausted and unable to learn much of anything. Instead, be selective. Choose only those sessions that really interest you and that are worthy of your complete focus.
- Do your homework. Before you join a webinar, do a bit of research on the topic. The more basic knowledge you have, the more value you’ll get from the session.
- Learn about the speakers. Review their LinkedIn profiles so that you know something about their background and career path. This way, you’ll be better able to form realistic expectations for each session.
- Focus completely on learning. Don’t try to do your job at the same time you’re attending a webinar. You’ll learn nothing, and your work will suffer. If you’re holding a pager or you have an on-call shift, flip the pager and swap shifts with a colleague.
- Take notes. Before you log on, make sure you have a notebook and pen at the ready. Research shows that old-school note-taking leads to better retention of learning. That’s because writing notes by hand forces our brains to process what we’re putting down on paper. Plus, writing notes by hand does a better job of triggering that brain activity than typing notes on a computer. People who take screenshots of slides typically never look at them again. When it comes to learning, screenshots are pretty much useless.
I hope this post will help you make the most of virtual webinars and learning. Sure, online events have their drawbacks, but they are undeniably the way of the future — especially in light of COVID-19. Today, virtual learning offers us a great way to acquire knowledge safely and affordably from just about anywhere. In the future, I believe technology will create solutions to some of the difficulties of the online experience. But for now, organizations like the All India Oracle Users Group deserve our thanks for creating our industry’s newest and best opportunities to learn.
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