08/16/2013 03:20 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2013

Government's Going Virtual: The Transition From In-person to Online Events and Training

Everything is happening virtually these days. Courses, career fairs, conferences and even concerts are increasingly conducted online, educating and entertaining global audiences. While television has to some degree played this role for the past several decades, what makes this trend noteworthy is that it's happening on the web.

For the public sector, in particular, virtual events are gaining traction due to a "perfect storm" of overlapping factors -- namely, extensive travel restrictions, greater public scrutiny on in-person conferences and advancement of interactive communications technology.

We're also living in an age of digital multitasking. Shuffling between our inboxes, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and multiple Internet tabs, it is very easy to become distracted during a virtual event or training. This is especially the case if the content is not engaging and the platform lacks opportunities for meaningful interaction. Therefore, the new challenge for event and training coordinators is how to take advantage of the virtual environment and keep people plugged in.

These are the types of issues that my team and I have been working on at GovLoop for the past few years. Nearly every week, we host at least one virtual training event for government employees to learn about the latest best practices and trends directly related their jobs. Our most recent training event, "Moving From In-Person To Online Events," outlined how government agencies can transition traditional conferences and training to virtual. Aside from successfully hosting a virtual event on virtual events, we were able to highlight how agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management are making the transition from traditional to virtual conferences and training.

For instance, earlier this year, GovLoop converted a two-day classroom course for the Office of Personnel Management's HR University. To deliver the training course online, we created a virtual classroom, and incorporated webinars, online discussions, blog posts, podcasts and tools for self-paced learning and peer reflection. Employing this variety of learning mechanisms enabled us to provide an integrated learning experience to participants. After the six-week course, eight out of 10 participants reported that the course had effectively met the learning objectives.

The project served as a pilot for OPM to venture into incorporating social learning into federal human resource training. Karen Simpson, Training Policy and Outreach Program Manager at OPM, explained the context of the pilot:

"Many HR professionals are looking for training opportunities to grow in this profession, but the present budget climate is making it more difficult. The social learning pilot gave HR professionals an opportunity to participate in an innovative training experience and gain knowledge and skills that they could apply to their jobs."

Like OPM, many agencies are in the exploratory phases of implementing virtual events. In order to help guide these agencies, GovLoop recently partnered with several digital experts to create a comprehensive resource specifically on building virtual events in government. Our report, "Building Better Conferences and Training: The Value of Virtual Events in Government," offers other cases studies on how the Department of Transportation, Centers for Disease Control and Department of Defense have built virtual platforms tailored specifically for their functional needs. The guide also includes practical tips on how agencies can innovate to the virtual environment, as well as insights from industry thought leaders whose companies offer valuable technology solutions in virtual.

For those agencies not ready to dive headfirst into the virtual realm, hybrid is a promising alternative. In the report, Adam Arthur at the CDC demonstrated how transforming a traditionally in-person conference to a hybrid in-person/virtual event doubled the number of participants and resulted in substantial cost-savings benefits. The agency built a Virtual Engagement Platform designed to make off-site conference attendees feel like they are actually at the event.

In conjunction with his role as the Virtual Platform Initiative Lead at the CDC, Arthur is passionate about spearheading virtual events. He is one of the founders of the Government Virtual Engagements Community of Practice. Arthur and fellow co-founders established the group to support the incorporation of 21st century virtual engagement technologies and standards into federal, state, and local sectors, inspiring a more accessible, flexible and sustainable government.

The huge surge of the virtual platform is not retracting anytime soon. As agencies continue to face budget constraints, especially in training and conferences, they are increasingly looking to virtual events as a cost-reducing means of carrying out mission tasks. Through our guide and the GVE CoP we are committed to assisting government training and events planning professionals as they seek to create virtual and hybrid events.