A silver lining in the move from in-person event programs to online platforms brought on by COVID-19? The rollout of the Extended Congress, according to a recent article in MedEdPublish, the journal of the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE).
As the authors of the article point out, with little time for planning, many planners for in-person events scheduled for earlier this year moved them to virtual platforms that were similar in structure to the canceled physical event. Those platforms were primarily web-conferencing systems like Zoom or recorded lectures, allowing for little interaction among participants.
Now that months have passed since the initial coronavirus crisis, virtual events are seen as less of a stopgap measure and are being mined for their inherent benefits. One example is the Extended Congress concept, which the authors write, “leverages the extension of time, space, and languages of a scientific meeting into a framework where learning can be integrated with the demands of work/life.”
In other words, digital events can be held over days and weeks so that registrants can participate around their schedules, they can attract larger audiences from around the world and accommodate different languages using tech tools such as subtitles in lectures, and they can improve the transfer of knowledge into practice with a sequential and active learning process.
One example provided in the article is the Latin American Peritoneal Dialysis Extended Congress, which was scheduled for March 23-28 and was focused on Colombian health-care professionals and those from neighboring countries (300-400 attendees). The in-person congress was planned from the beginning to be have digital components, including online networking, recorded mini-lectures, and a review and papers and posters accepted to the conference, which participants could vote on and interact with researchers. There was also a webinar summarizing the main outcomes of the event planned once the event concluded.
The following five weeks after the initial conference session (March 30 to May 3) — also planned before COVID-19 made physical events impossible — were focused on the main topics of the conference, explored short lectures, reading materials, clinical simulations and case discussions in clinical forums. “Collective reflection with peers and experts is maximized by interaction and participation with experts and tutors and the use of social-networking tools in the platform,” the authors write. This part of the extended congress required a registration fee. The final week of the forum included closing discussions and a farewell forum.
Less than three weeks before the scheduled date for the live congress, the event was canceled due to the pandemic. All participants were encouraged to participate in the virtual components of the congress that had already been set up. In the end, 720 paid attendees and 54 scholarship recipients participated in the virtual event, with an additional 1,986 professionals given free access to the initial week of programming.
In the coming years, the authors conclude, “we will see a mix of hybrid events (where the live component may have a large central location and satellite ones) and virtual-only events, based on the explosion of experiences during this year, when organizations take more risks than usual — because the usual status quo is not possible or even reasonable.”