Behind the scenes of the Virtual Learning Show: the L&D online conference

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Written by Jo Cook on 28 May 2014 in Interviews

Jo Cook talks with the LPI's chief executive to find out how an online learning conference is formed

Online and electronic are the way forward for many things: commerce; communication; learning; conferences. Colin Steed, chief executive of the Learning Performance Institute, independently hosts two online conferences a year. TJ spoke to him to find out how he goes about it.

TJ: What was the motivation behind an online conference?

CS: I think people will say you can’t be online all day long. Conventional wisdom tells you a whole day of live online learning is too much, so I always resisted doing a whole conference for that reason. But I had second thoughts in 2013 for, through experience, I found that if you are absorbed in learning things that are valuable to you then you can concentrate for that long – providing there are sufficient breaks of a reasonable length. The key is having 30 minute breaks between the sessions.  The feedback for the first and second Virtual Learning Show amazed me. People said that they were “absorbed for the whole day” and that showed me that if you pick the right content and speakers who know how to deliver live online learning properly then a whole day online, with breaks, can work.

TJ: What has made the Virtual Learning Show a success?

CS: Three key things. A) Selecting the topics people want. B) Choosing the best live online presenters in the business, and C) Having a 30 minute break between each session.

TJ: How do you know what content to put on the Virtual Learning Show?

CS: Well, that’s the easy part – live online learning is my subject of expertise and passion. I keep really up-to-date in the topics online facilitators, designers and managers are interested in, as well as coming up with new topics that I know they would like to explore. Sometimes I receive recommendations from another presenter or maybe I’ve read someone’s book on the subject that I think would appeal. I like to get people who are passionate about their subject, with energy and excitement. For topics, I decide what topics I would like in someone else’s shoes, for example, if I work in the NHS and don’t have much budget. Also what the hot topics in the industry are – I keep up to date on Twitter, blogs and what top people around the world are talking about. 

Recently, I’ve added more than just live online learning topics to the Virtual Learning Show. This year we have Sam Borough focusing on digital curation and I’m excited about another session on immersive learning. I’d just been asked to review a new book by Koreen Pagano on the subject and as I know Koreen and how good she is at presenting online I asked her to do a session.

TJ: How long does it take to organise each Virtual Learning Show?

CS: I organise two conferences a year, in June and November, and takes me around three- to four months to organise – I do have a day job too! A lot of my spare time is taken up finding more about a subject, talking to people, and finding the presenters, researching and finding the authority on a subject and if they can present online. This is key is presenting online – it’s a skill that really needs to be learnt and practised. It’s such a different medium to face-to-face delivery - that’s really why I designed the LPI’s Certified Live Online Facilitator and Certificate in Designing Online Learning certification programmes.

TJ: What are the differences you notice between organising traditional conferences, such as Learning Live for the LPI, and the Virtual Learning Show?

CS: It’s definitely easier organising online conferences! The platform is there and you know it works for the delivery of the conference. It can take a little time with some of the presenters to make sure that they know the technology and get comfortable with it. As I say, online facilitation is so different to when you have a session with people in front of you. The logistics are easier too – no venues to worry about and the software handles all the registrations.

The hardest job is hosting all of the sessions, which our LPI Lead COLF facilitator, Michelle Parish, does. She does an amazing job at it, such as having to host four speakers in different time zones around the world. She has to liaise with speakers and conduct things like sound checks and uploading slides all in the background. It’s a high-pressure job and Michelle does it brilliantly – she stays so cool and is the only person, along with myself, who doesn’t get a break all day. It highlights to me that for this level of professionalism in an event you need at least one host all day long.

TJ: What are your plans for the future of the Virtual Learning Show?

CS: My thoughts for development for the future are around some case studies; also to expand around a forum and discussion. The Virtual Learning Show is more than just a conference, it’s a community.

TJ: Where can we find out more?

CS: At for a free sign-up to dip in and out of the programme as you see fit! There will also be lots on Twitter, which you can find with #VLS14 


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