Monday, March 12, 2012

Going All Out Virtual

This past weekend I participated in the Family Tree University Spring 2012 Virtual Conference. I have attended many virtual webinars as well as the live streaming events from RootsTech but this was my first completely virtual conference. At the start I wasn't sure how I would feel about it. I can say without hesitation now that I loved it!

The FTU Virtual Conference did require a paid registration. It is not my goal with this post to get into a discussion about cost or whether the price was worth it. Clearly it was worth it to those who registered. What I would like to focus on is the concept of a totally virtual conference.

I was not sure what my learning experience was going to be like. Would I get as much out of it as I do at an in-person conference? I was surprised that I found the conference to be very fulfilling. In addition to the webinars which could be downloaded and saved on my computer, there were live-chats, discussion boards, raffle prizes and more.

I love to listen to webinars from all the various providers that are out there today. Having a conference with lots of webinars over the course of a weekend really made it feel like a conference. I have to admit that I learned a lot. Like at any conference some presentations will interest you and some won't. All the ones I watched were professional and well done. There were 15 webinars in all presented at this conference.

The benefits of the virtual conference for me were:
  1. Front row seating with clear sound for all talks
  2. Food and bathroom breaks at my convenience
  3. No traveling, dressing nice or putting on makeup
  4. The ability to watch the videos at my own convenience on my own schedule
  5. Not having to pay for parking, hotel and restaurants

Virtual conferences may not be for everybody but I can see them really filling a need for those with young families who can't get away, people who live a great distance from available conferences or people who simply can't afford the cost of a national or regional conference.

The Face of Education

I believe that there is room within the genealogy community for all types of education whether they are institutes, stand alone webinars, online or in person classes or traditional conferences. The variety of different types of genealogical education is a real benefit for the 21st century genealogist. I really believe that all these types of educational programs can provide quality education. Granted they each have their different levels, focus and goals but overall they are all advancing genealogical education.

My Crazy View of the Future

I am really excited by video learning! I could envision a company developing and focusing on the production of genealogical videos. They would produce courses that start with step one and can meet the needs of novices such as those that are getting excited about family history from watching Who Do You Think You Are? each week.

Is there enough of a mainstream market for these videos? Maybe not directly to the general public but I would love to see these videos created and sold to public and private libraries.  Wouldn't it be great if someone watched a genealogy program on tv and then went to their local library and got out an entire video course on genealogy research?  There could be videos geared towards adults and others targeted to children. The videos could give them a complete education on genealogical research and get them started in the right direction. I think it would be a wonderful thing.

What's Your Take?

How do you feel about the concept of a virtual conference? Would you attend? Have you attended one in the past? Do you feel that taking classes from videos is a viable option?  Let me know what you think.


  1. Marian,

    Thank you for this blog post. I was thinking about attending, but I am glad that I didn't sign up, as I had a funeral on Saturday, with some heavy duty scanning of some 550 photos that needed to be done before Saturday. So, I probably would not have gotten everything out of it, as I would like.

    I think your guess for the future is right on. The small Family History Interest Group that I belong to, is venturing into a Virtual Presentation in a couple of months. We'll see how that goes. This group does have presentations each month, but it is a Library sponsored group. (no dues), so funding is limited for guest speakers. I have a lot of great local speakers, but the Virtual Meeting helps expand who the presenters might me. (You are on my list).

    Great insight and thanks for sharing.


  2. One of the benefits for me of virtual education is that it doesn't need to be back-to-back classes required by making the most of gathering in a physical location.

    I really enjoy having webinars spread out on my calendar, giving me time to digest material, research links, apply to my own research, etc. for each class.

    I love the Legacy and Geneablogger radio approach of mixing up topics to cover a the diversity of genealogy - but would also enjoy seeing the "track" approach of physical conferences applied to virtual learning, such as a weekly series of subject-related webinars.

  3. I enjoy webinars and I agree about what the future might hold however, I also like to with live people so as to share. So I am happy with both possibilities.

    Thanks for a great blog post Marian. Very interesting to hear of your own experience.


  4. Lucie,

    I agree that virtual education should never replace live education and interactions. I hate to think where our society would end up if we went completely that direction. But I do feel that it is a welcome and viable supplement for those who can benefit from it.


  5. Great post Marian! Thank you. I agree with you, but would like to add another benefit of the webinars and virtual conferences. I would love to travel and attend one of the many conferences, but being disabled and being afraid of crowds, I have not attended, really wanted to, but just could not attend a conference physically.

    Having the webinars and Thomas MacEntee's Radio show coming to my computer has been wonderful. I wanted to sign up for the vitural conference, but I had family emergency out of state and would not be able to focus my attention on the conference. Perhaps next time! ~smiles~

    1. I must agree with you about the helpfulness of webinars and virtual conferences for disabled genealogists. I have a fairly severe hearing impairment and have reached the point where I simply can't hear lectures in large rooms and/or areas with background noise. So being able to hear lectures clearly via my headphones is my only opportunity to learn from speakers instead of just reading books and online articles.

  6. I am happy to hear your experience was beneficial. I have attended virtual conferences in the past but in other industries, writing and publishing, and I was thrilled by the experience and the amount of learning I took away. I think you will find these becoming more the norm. I have not attended the FTU virtual conference as it falls during our spring break and we are usually traveling so the timing does not work out for me, otherwise I would be there right alongside you. It just makes perfect sense for those of use who rack up a lot of costs by traveling.

  7. Thanks Marian for sharing your thoughts on the virtual conference. I am pleased that you are able to save the individual webinars to your computer. Sometimes with livestreaming or even videos on the computers you run into problems if your internet speed isn't fast enough. Perhaps with being able to download them you might not run into this problem.

    I presume that you could then watch them again if you wished.

  8. Sounds like something I would have loved 10 years ago when my kids eere young. Thanks for the erite up. I love webinars but didn't fully comprehend how a virtual conference would work.

  9. Nice review, Marian. As for your dream of virtual courses, the free courses at are also not to be missed. Some are better than others (just as you noted in the virtual conference) but one can learn on one's own time.


  10. Marian, I am very active in the Boy Scouting world and online training is really making headway. At this point, almost all of the basic training is being offered in an electronic format. The benefit is that training can reach many more people at a much lower cost. In-person still has the obvious benefit of networking, but in-person training is not always feasible, as you said. If we look at the statistics regarding increases in online education across the board, including college degrees, I'm sure we'll see the sharp increase over the past 10 years. Online learning is here to stay.

  11. I'm glad that you enjoyed the virtual courses. But my problem is that there are so many courses out there that I don't know where to start. I have taken online courses which I would think would be like a virtual course. The courses that I have taken were regular college courses and genealogy courses and it was great to be able to "talk" with the instructor and other students. I especially learned a lot from Lisa Alzo in her online course. But what I want to know is how do people manage with all of the webinars,you tube classes, podcasts,and online courses like those offered in family tree university and genealogical, and that doesn't even count all of the newsletters. How does anyone have time to do any research or house work?