A meetings expert says that while asynchronous events differ from live, real-time gatherings, on-demand content offers advantages that benefit learners. But planners need to know when the format works best.
Asynchronous meetings content has become such a dominant trend that it comes up in areas as diverse as hybrid events, virtual expo halls, and membership churn. And that’s not surprising, because giving members more control over when they access event content is all about serving them better.
Asynchronous content is “very learner-centric. It’s for me to consume when I can consume it and how I want to consume it,” says Derrick Johnson, director of event strategy and development and chief diversity officer at Talley Management Group. “In the synchronous world, it takes place in real time with people there, so it’s not customized for the individual participant. When it comes to synchronous or asynchronous learning, you’re able to customize the experience for the individual user.”
This individualized approach has parallels in other areas of life, particularly in bingeable entertainment such as Netflix. “I think we’re slowly taking the lessons from our personal world and applying them to the professional one,” Johnson says.
Asynchronous content has big advantages but it doesn’t work everywhere, so association professionals need to take time to figure out where it makes sense.
Since asynchronous content gives people the ability to learn at their own pace, it’s particularly well suited to certification programs, Johnson says. Educational content can be produced in multiple formats—including blogs, research reports, and video—to allow more freedom in how individual learners approach a topic.
Johnson notes that content that was initially produced in a synchronous format can be repackaged and repurposed for asynchronous events. But the tradeoff is a loss of immediacy and connection with an audience engaging with content together. Finding ways to tie the content to a broader conversation—say, in a private community or on social media—can mimic the synchronous experience.
“I’m seeing the same thing that my peers did see [at another time], but instantly, there are questions that pop up that are connected to the content that are making me think in new and different ways that I’m reacting to in the moment,” he says of this approach. “It almost takes the content and brings it to life in a different way than it would if I was just passively sitting there. I almost become an active participant in the learning.”
As the pandemic wanes, meeting organizers and attendees are eager to bring back in-person meetings and the direct human interaction they provide. When real-time connections or collaboration are needed, asynchronous content will come up short, Johnson says.
“Whenever we need people to be together—and whenever I think of togetherness, I think of any group work where I need to enhance the scale of this concept, of this idea—that’s where asynchronous learning is probably not the best,” he says. “That’s where you need synchronous learning—you need people together in one space, at one time, to work collaboratively together.”
Johnson predicts that many associations will find a happy medium between the two approaches.
“For me, in this event space, the best model is a collaboration between synchronous and asynchronous learning, where you have the opportunities for the learners to, at their own pace, at their own leisure, engage with the prerecorded content that exists in the space,” he says. “But you’re providing opportunities of adapting this synchronous learning together so that people can connect at a later point and build upon the learning and on the concepts that they’ve gathered during that independent time.”