Distance Learning for Meeting Groups, 2001

July 11, 2011 by Paris and John  
Filed under Sample Articles


Lights, cameras, action!

Looking for a way to bring the meeting to the masses? Or to bring a headline speaker to the meeting? Distance learning may just be the answer. Through traditional technologies such as videocassette, CD-Rom, audiotape, videoconferencing, and audioconferencing, as well as state of the art technologies such as Internet-based programming, you can choose the best way to deliver information to your group.

But wait a minute! Won’t these technologies make meetings obsolete? Why travel to a central meeting when the virtual view is just a mouse click or a remote control click away?

“You’ll never replace face to face meetings,” explains Tom Maguire, CMP, Director, EventCom Technologies by Marriott (888.833.3572). Marriott’s newly launched EventCom Technologies offers meeting planners the ability to plan a meeting with satellite sessions in cities throughout the world, all connected to the central location via satellite broadcast or other technology. Marriott provides the meeting planner with a single bill for rooms, catering, and technology. “We are currently the only lodging company with a department devoted to interactive technologies for meeting planners.”

Other experts in the field agree. “It’s a myth that distance learning can replace meetings,” explains Eric Porterfield, president of the Distance Learning Network (800.326.9166). “The reality is you wouldn’t just have a virtual meeting. You need a real event to make the virtual meeting affordable.” DC-based Porterfield, an industry expert, believes distance learning can increase meeting attendance in the long run. “You are introducing the larger market to what they’re missing. It’s almost a teaser or a trailer. They’re not getting the full event. Most people don’t go just for the education — they go for the social aspect. The virtual meeting is almost a sampler. You create a window into the experience which is the live event. When done, people say, ‘That’s exciting and I want to be a part of it next year.’”

Distance learning offers meeting planners yet another option in their event toolbox. “People have to reach large audiences in various places and these technologies are another way for them to do so,” explains Maguire, who sees several scenarios that make distance learning a viable option for meeting planners. “We see satellite as being able to enhance meetings by being able to get a concise message to a group that may not be able to attend. Another use is when a meeting cannot get a keynote speaker. We have the ability to bring in people who couldn’t otherwise attend. If your keynote speaker is in Hong Kong and can’t make it to your Atlanta meeting, don’t think that you need to look for another speaker.”

A third attractive feature of distance learning is timeliness. “It’s very timely: if a drug is approved and you need to get the entire sales force up to speed, you can easily do that with satellite technology,” points out Maguire.

Many groups use distance learning for classroom training. “Meeting planners can save these courses and make them available for their clients to use later on demand,” says Jennifer Lund, spokesperson for VirtuaLINC (877.876.5462, www.virtualinc.com), a leading provider of high speed Internet, videoconferencing and data services for the hospitality and corporate marketplace. “Distance
learning can enhance a company culture across locations and reduce the time and expense of traveling. Overall, distance learning and meetings provide a more efficient solution.”

Similarly, the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) recently debuted its E-learning Center, providing members the opportunity to experience live, interactive presentations over the Internet. Each session incorporates a presenter, a PowerPoint or software presentation, polling, and the ability to interact with the instructor and other participants. “Our goal is to empower travel professionals to work more efficiently and productively with each other as well as with their customers through enhancing their own skills without sacrificing their time,” says ICTA president, Jack E. Mannix, CTC.

Distance learning can be achieved through a variety of media. Let’s take a look at your choices:

*Satellite Conferencing

Video conferencing, with satellite broadcasting whereby attendees can view a speaker but the speaker cannot see or hear the audience, is one of the most popular options for distance learning. “Satellite broadcasting is a one way transmission, much like watching a TV. The benefit is real time transmission,” says Marriott’s Maguire.

*ISDN Videoconferencing

Need more interactivity? Look to ISDN videoconferencing, with transmission via ISDN telephone lines. Attendees watch and listen to the speaker then ask questions in real time. “The benefit is that both parties can see and hear each other for interactivity,” says Maguire.

*Web Broadcasting

With web broadcasting, you’ve got two options: synchronous (streaming) and asynchronous (on-demand) access. “Web streaming simultaneously over the Internet is especially useful for remote locations,” notes Maguire. “Collaborative web-based conferences allow large groups to view at their laptops while listening to the event and they’re also able to give feedback over their computers.”

Asynchronous or on-demand access is ideal for situations where live access isn’t necessary. Perhaps you’d like members to be able to view tapes of the broadcast a week, a month or even a year later. “One of the beauties of web streaming is the ability to archive for later viewing,” says Maguire. “It’s available on the Internet as a password protected site. The level of interactivity can continue after the event through question and answer boxes which allow viewers to give input on a presentation.” Another benefit of the password-protected site is that it provides a record of all access to the site so you’ll know how often the material was viewed by members (and by which members).

Web broadcasting doesn’t just mean video streaming; audio broadcasting requires lower bandwidth.


Traditional multimedia can also be used to capture a presentation and offer it for viewing at a later date. “Distance learning is a growing industry but growing in more traditional areas of broadcast, CD-Roms developed from the conference, videotapes, and audiotapes,” says Distance Learning Network’s Porterfield. “We are seeing more combination use with the old and new technologies than with a standalone technology. We are coming back to the tried and true technologies because they work. People are passive learners in a meeting. That’s what some of the old technologies do. Those older technologies succeed because they fit the paradigm of passive learning.”

CD-Roms, videotapes, and audiotapes have the benefit of easy use but have the disadvantage of check-in, check-out responsibilities as compared to on-demand web broadcasting. Even so, the cost is lower than newer technologies and for many companies these options remain important. “Audio is huge. You can access it from anywhere. We’re seeing more on-demand audiocassettes. We’re also seeing TeleTopics where viewers request video and engage online,” says Porterfield.

So where do you start? First, by realizing that you do not need to select a single technology — or any technology at all. “Sometimes people embrace technology for technology’s sake,” says the Distance Learning Network’s Porterfield. “We tend to talk more people out of using distance learning than using distance learning. You need to engage with a company who can provide direction in which technology should be used. In many cases, you shouldn’t be using the technology at all.”

If you do opt for distance meeting, get some basic knowledge. “Meeting planners need to know they don’t have to be an expert in satellite transmission or ISDN. They just need an understanding of the technologies available,” says Marriott’s Maguire. “Meeting planners are intimidated by the technology because they’re not familiar with it. Meeting planners should shop around to get educated on products then study and attend technological events. They have to use the resources.”

Once you’ve acquired a layman’s knowledge of what’s available, experts emphasize that it’s important to seek professional advice. However, not just any professional advice will do. “You’re not looking for a vendor but a partner,” advises Porterfield. “Meeting planners need to find a multifaceted company that doesn’t just offer one technology or you get a pitch for that one technology.”

Experts agree that seeking a vendor who offers more than one technology is critical. “A satellite company would steer the meeting planner to a satellite broadcast. We’re not aligned to one technology,” says Marriott’s Maguire. “We talk through the content and the message they are transmitting then we talk about the best technology. They’re not locked into one technology. For a small audience they might stream to individuals then do an audio conferencing for the most remote members of the group.”

Distance Learning Network’s Porterfield also advises meeting planners not to be lured by the Internet unless it fulfills a specific need. “The Internet is a sex appeal technology and it hasn’t matured into a profitable industry yet. The good news is you don’t have to go into an expensive exploration of the Internet. The Internet is probably the least used [of the distance learning mediums]. I’m not against it; we do it all. But when I advise a client, I look at the purpose in mind.”

Porterfield also advises planners to poll their market about the possible use of distance learning, but then to take those results as guidelines, not as gospel. “It’s a very difficult market to figure out. There are standard accessing tools such as surveys: ‘Would you like to see more online programming?’ Actually planners should ask attendees if they would like to see more online programming and, if so, would they use it? There’s a disconnect between reality of accessing and use of the media.”

Marriott’s Tom Maguire sums it up. “Most importantly, meeting planners have got to think out of the box. Things that were once not available, now are.”



The various media options — both online and offline — are now offered by a growing number of venues, from conference hotels to convention centers to university facilities. Existing hotels are jumping on the high-tech bandwagon and undergoing major renovations. The Wyndham Palace Resort and Spa in the Walt Disney World® Resort recently completed a $12 million renovation to assist in high-tech meetings. According to Greg Hauenstein, general manager of the Wyndham Palace Resort and Spa. “Meeting planners will certainly appreciate the resort’s technology additions which will efficiently enable them to produce appealing high-tech presentations.” A broadband fiber optic network has been added to the rooms and will ultimately be connected to all meeting and function spaces in the hotel so attendees can watch presentations from their rooms.

Similarly, Walt Disney World Swan Hotel and Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel offer extensive high-tech facilities, attracting Lotus Development Corporation’s 5,000-attendee meeting. During the conference, the hotel provided Lotus with video conferencing with 56 switch circuits and ISDN.

Omni Hotels have recently added high-speed Internet access, provided by VirtuaLINC Corporation and CAIS Internet, both in guest rooms and meeting spaces. Video conferencing was added to meeting rooms to offer video multicast, point-to-point video, multipoint video and Internet videostreaming. Similarly, Hyatt Regency Dallas just completed a $72 million renovation, now offering full video broadcast capabilities, in-house video channels, and more.

Distance learning facilities are also available at a growing number of convention centers across the south. The Arlington Convention Center’s Grand Hall recently hosted the Fourth Annual Worldwide Lessons in Leadership Series Teleconference, in conjunction with the University of Texas at Arlington’s Division of Continuing Education. This teleconference was broadcast live from the Arlington Convention Center to 215 cities across the United States and 38 countries. The signal was downlinked into numerous headquarters around the United States, South America and Europe.

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