Extending the conference experience with VR

The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference took place a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve ever been to DevLearn, you’ll know that it’s a fantastic event with thousands of delegates, engaging and inspiring keynote speakers and a huge range of interesting and enlightening workshops and seminars. As you might’ve guessed, I’ve been lucky enough to attend DevLearn a couple of times. This year I wasn’t so lucky.

Working in public services has meant that securing the funding and permission to travel to and participate in events like DevLearn and others, (e.g. Online Educe Berlin) has become increasingly difficult. Sure you can follow along on Twitter and see everything that is notable to people you know who are there, but it’s not the same as being able to choose what you want to attend or draw meaning from you hear and see. So, thinking about how frustrated I felt at not being able to go to DevLearn (or support my staff to go), I started to think about how we might use the technology we use to deliver learning to our stakeholders to allow us to “attend” events like DevLearn virtually.

Now, before going any further, I’d make the point that the best way to experience these events is to actually be there – in person! The chance encounters and informal conversations with other delegates can provide as many learning moments and connections as the formal sessions do, and I don’t think we’ve reached the point with technology where we can replicate those virtually (though I’m very happy to be proved wrong). But, when faced with an absolute barrier in terms of travel or finance, surely the very technology being showcased at digital learning events could be used to provide a parallel (and still paid) virtual experience to delegates who simply can’t be there in person?

The careful placement of 360 video cameras (like the new GoPro Max or Insta360 One X) in conference rooms could allow virtual delegates be in sessions via VR video and there are a range of backchannel tools beyond the obvious social media platforms which could allow these delegates to interact with speakers/workshop presenters in real time. If virtual delegates were signed up in the same way as delegates attending in person, event organisers would even know which sessions (beyond the keynotes) would be most popular for virtual delegates thereby allowing for the best use of tech and bandwidth at the event.

One of the great things about DevLearn is the service they provide to people who’ve never been to the event before to guide people to get the most out of their conference experience. This could translate well to the virtual experience and enable virtual delegates to wring the most out of their experience too.

Thinking about this has made me consider how I can take some modest steps to do something like this for the events we organise in my day job and address the challenges of time and place (albeit on a smaller scale) in my working context. Time to go buy a 360 camera or two I think.