Training events will continue to be virtual until autumn 2022 because:
- Dates are already committed and venues not available to match
- Demand for virtual attendance so need for hybrid events if return to venue
- Course structure at venue different, not ideal for virtual attendance
- Running a hybrid event equitably and well is technically complex, requires considerable investment and time to acquire skills
- Cost and number booking for venue may reduce viability
- Providing non-equitable virtual attendance by livestreaming or recording is against IPROW's commitment to quality training
- IPROW and most members' organisations are committed to reducing environmental impact by avoiding travel
Planning for events and commitment of dates generally occurs six to twelve months in advance. In October 2021, this means that events up until July 2022 are already scheduled as virtual, because of lack of certainty regarding infection control. Conversion to venue events has been considered but venues are not available on the scheduled dates (venues are usually booked several months in advance).
The benefits of virtual events have been so many, there will remain demand to join a course virtually, even if it is running at a venue, so there will undoubtedly be a need to consider hybrid events. This immediately presents several problems:
Course structure, as all courses which would have been one day (or more) at a venue, have run successfully over two (or more) mornings virtually and this has been strongly acclaimed as beneficial, allowing absorption time between modules, avoiding the afternoon saturation point of a full day course, chance to reflect on the module's content or undertake an exercise, as well as maintain some movement in other work. Reverting to long days at a venue is therefore not necessarily beneficial to learning, though there is the considerable main benefit of informal interaction with other participants at breaks.
Technical demand and difficulty providing equitable training for both virtual and venue audience requires hardware, software, technical expertise in support, and a high level of multi-tasking and technological skill in the trainer in addition to their specialist knowledge. That is a very big request of a trainer, even with provision of training and practice, which would require a substantial investment by IPROW and the trainer, when trainers' time in particular is already in such short supply it is having an impact on provision of training. The investment is difficult to justify when virtual training has achieved very high levels of satisfaction. It is very likely that advances in hybrid delivery of education (in particular) will help us with technology but not with time for our rights of way officers to retrain as hybrid trainers.
While we very much wish to provide for all requirements, the numbers on courses mean trying to do so could easily make the course unviable. Courses average 15 participants so if even a third of them prefer not to travel and wish to join remotely, there are too few bookings for a venue event. The cost of a course at a venue is divided between the anticipated number of bookings. Virtual attendance at venue events will increase the gamble of price-setting and could result in IPROW making losses. While IPROW is a non-profit organisation, its capacity to absorb loss is limited.
Venue attendance might be increased by refusing virtual attendance, but that would remove the possibility of training for people who may be restricted from travel by their employer or personal circumstances. It is clear from the last eighteen months that people have been able to access training virtually which would never have been feasible to them at a venue. IPROW is committed to making professional development as available as possible.
Non-equitable attendance virtually, such as by basic live-streaming with limited interaction, or by providing non-interactive recordings after the event, are an alternative to hybrid events. It is likely that the cost would be higher than people were willing to pay for a lower standard of training.
IPROW's own commitment, and that of most attending organisations, is to reduce environmental impact, which means avoiding unnecessary travel. It is difficult to justify travel when a satisfactory alternative exists and it appears likely, from informal seeking of views, that while a member's response may be yes, I prefer and want to travel to a venue for a course, an employing organisation may not be willing to fund it when there is a virtual alternative
We are considering that our Law and Practice course, which is four days residential, may take place at a venue, and one day events remain virtual because the multi-day course has more time for the informal contact between participants so benefits of a venue course are much higher than a one day event and easier to justify.
Views of members will be sought and research and discussion will continue over the next three months before decisions are made.