Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Can a paradigm shift in conference business models reverse declining attendance at face to face conferences

I haven't thought this one through thoroughly (for example, is there declining attendance at face-to-face conferences; stats needed) but I have been involved in WUTR (webcasting under the radar) from recent TESOL conferences, as a service provided its members by CALL-IS in TESOL (see http://callis2016.pbworks.com/) but in many ways an extension of my Learning2gether initiative, which I have been conducting weekly since 2010, and now in its 329th episode at http://learning2gether.net.

I Googled the question and came on this

I recently filled out a survey for the TESOL 2016 conference in Baltimore, and the last question stimulated a brain-pffft. The question and my response were ...

20. If you have any suggestions or comments regarding how we could improve the convention and/or English Language Expo, please enter them in the box below.

You could follow the IATEFL model of webcasting plenary addresses and certain sessions, and sponsor a series of interviews during the event via an online web site updated throughout the event; e.g. http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2016/live-schedule.

Going IATEFL one better, recordings should all go to a permanent online archive openly accessible to all, not just TESOL members. Counter-intuitively to some, this would not prevent members from attending or paying dues to any significant degree, but through the appreciation of those who could not attend, it would stimulate growth since it would create an aura of rock star English teachers and give non or lapsed members an incentive of great value this day and age to come and join in such a forward-thinking organization, and to attend conferences where they felt they 'knew' some of the people they would meet there thanks to their online presence, and would want to connect with them both online and personally.

According to TESOL member stats https://www.tesol.org/about-tesol/membership/membership-statistics a quick glance shows a slight decline in membership over the past few years (13,000 down to 11,000 in Jan 2013 thru Jan this year). Perhaps a paradigm shift on the business model is in order.

By creating a conference archive and making it freely available as a gift to the profession, TESOL would benefit from the appreciation of potential members who would want to associate with an organization that was seen be uplifting the profession by sharing openly.

The book whose pages Google found for me is this one:

Cobb, Jeff. (2013). Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, Jan 15, 2013 - Business & Economics - 240 pages

Lifelong learning has become a multibillion-dollar business, with more than 60 million adults currently engaged in webinars, webcasts, in-house training, continuing education classes, and more. But it is also an industry in flux, as newcomers topple old-guard organizations that can’t keep pace with the need for instant access to materials and flexible delivery methods, as well as demands for community and connection. Leading the Learning Revolution is the first book to explain how to tap into this lucrative market, which rewards the most forward-thinking training firms, professional associations, continuing education programs, entrepreneurial speakers and consultants, and others. Filled with insights from the author’s vast experience, field-tested strategies, interviews, and anecdotes, the book explains how to: • Use technology to create high-impact learning opportunities • Develop content that is faster and better than the competition’s • Convert prospects to customers by building connection • Focus on the bottom-line results of lifelong learning Successful people and organizations never stop learning, and the people and organizations that lead that learning will never stop growing!

I have bolded the points relevant to my advice to TESOL above. I need to read this book, or others which similarly corroborate my own intuitions.

I hope to flesh this one out when I get more time. Meanwhile, any comments?


elizabeth_anne said...

Hi again Vance :-)
I had to react here, since my own active involvement in IATEFL started only after the first webcasting of their annual conference: 2007 in Aberdeen. (I had to go and join them!)
And the interaction f2f and online conferences works the other way too.
Before becoming active online, via EVO, I used to go to national conferences (with international speakers) in a relatively passive way. (present my paper, attend the rest of the conference, learn) whereas after working with other teachers online, going to conferences underwent an ovidian transformation for me ! They became a meeting of "old friends"
"No, really! how wonderful to actually meet you at last. Have you seen Tom/Dick/Harry is here too. Come and see, he was over there. Lets go and find him" Words used repeatedly to people met in the flesh for the first time (but I digress)
Basically - I agree that providing a public broadcast of the conferences increases participation.

Vance Stevens said...

Thank you for your insights, Elizabeth. I've posted a follow-on to this post after IATEFL Glasgow 2017, here