Ragan webcast: My window into distance learning

So there I was, sitting at home with my laptop computer, watching Social Media guru Brian Solis live from the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta talking about the future of social media. And I wasn’t just watching and listening, I was engaging in conversation with dozens of people through Twitter, discussing his presentation as he delivered it – and making new connections. It was my first complete “distance learning” experience, and it was awesome.

The Ragan Communications 3rd Annual Social Media for Communicators Conference was held Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in Atlanta. It included three tracks, with nearly 30 speeches, discussions and workshops. For the cost of just the conference fee (no travel, no hotel, no meals), I was able to watch every Track 1 workshop live. And Ragan is going to send me a DVD of all three tracks within a couple weeks, so the learning continues. (I participated in the live conference from home rather than the office to avoid all the distractions – phones calls, walk-ins, “crises” – of office work.)

Yes, attending a conference in person has its advantages. You meet people face-to-face, you connect, interact and network in a very personal manner. But this is the age of social media, and I found a way to do that, to at least some extent, without being there. The conference employed the Twitter hashtag #ragancoke, which allowed all of us Twitter users to develop a live online community where we could communicate our thoughts and reactions to what we were seeing and hearing. Not only did I enjoy reading the Tweets from others who were in the audience and participating from home, like me, I “followed” everyone who Tweeted a comment that interested me. As a result, I now have developed more than 40 new ongoing Twitter connections – people interested in the same topics as me … people who have expertise in the area of social media and regularly share information with me, educate me and stimulate me to keep learning and adapting. As a result of these quality connections, I learn something new – or find a link to valuable information – every time I check in on my Twitter page.

Of course, distance learning is not new, but it is moving rapidly into the mainstream. Every school and institution of higher education is at least toying with the use of distance learning, and many have developed extensive distance learning programs.

Attending this conference online, I found great value in distance learning. Yet, I recognize that being a professional attending a conference through a webcast is very different than being a student attending a public school class.

Many of you have had extensive experience with distance learning, both as providers and consumers. What do you think? To what extent will schools be employing distance learning 10 years from now? What will our public schools look like? What are the advantages and opportunities, and what do we need to watch out for?

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