Feds Are Finding Value in Virtual Events

By Brittany Ballenstedt

July 24, 2013

Recent budget cuts as well as increased scrutiny on travel and conference spending all are contributing to a lack of training and career development opportunities available to federal employees.

But perhaps those cutbacks could not have come at a better time, as technology is making cost effective, on demand training more readily available to federal workers. And there’s even better news: most feds are using these types of virtual events, at least to some extent, according to a new study.

The study, “Building Better Conferences and Training: The Value of Virtual Events in Government,” released Tuesday by GovLoop, found that virtual gatherings have grown in importance for the public sector. A survey of 335 government workers, of which more than half were federal workers, found that 92 percent have either attended or participated in virtual events or trainings of some kind.

The most popular virtual events among respondents were webinars and Web-based training (89 percent), virtual conferences (52.8 percent) and virtual career fairs (49 percent). Just 26 percent of feds said they had participated in an online, multi-week course.

While two out of three respondents indicated that they still prefer in-person events, almost all (90 percent) believe they are more likely to attend a virtual event or webinar due to budget cuts and other factors.  

Still, most feds recognized virtual training as having a number of benefits, such as reducing travel and out-of-office time (91 percent), cost savings (87 percent), enabling greater participation (79 percent) and convenience (70 percent). Very few respondents (12.8 percent), however, said the virtual events improve learning outcomes.

Some respondents also touted the networking benefits of virtual events, noting that it is often easier to make connections to subject matter experts and other participants via virtual rather than in-person events, in large part thanks to social media.

There also are a number of resources available to virtual event participants that would be unavailable at live events, respondents noted. Among the most valuable virtual training tools were PDFs available for download (81 percent), live webinars (77 percent), links to additional resources (73 percent), pre-recorded webinars (43 percent), live group chats (36 percent), polls (31 percent), and integration with social media (27 percent), the study found.

The report also highlighted four federal agencies that are considered leaders on virtual events and training, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Informatics Conference, the Defense Department’s Defense Connect Online and the Office of Personnel Management’s Social Learning Pilot.  

“There’s no doubt that government agencies will be hosting an increasing number of events online,” the report states. “The opportunities for scale and cost effectiveness are immense and the risks are relatively low.”

Have you participated in an online virtual training for your job? What are the pros and cons of these virtual gatherings?

By Brittany Ballenstedt

July 24, 2013