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E-learning or Face-to-face?: The Value of Professional Development

Although many of us are no longer sheltering at home, home-schooling, and conducting more Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings than ever before, I think we can safely say “things are different.” We long for the remnants of social distancing to wane so we can again make face-to-face connections. This time of uncertainty can be daunting, but it’s also fostering deeper relationships, albeit mostly virtual, in our homes with family and online with friends and co-workers.

As a veteran planner spanning almost three decades, I’ve been part of economic challenges, terrorist attacks, and two pandemics (remember the Swine Flu in 2009?). Through it all, we were able to find silver linings and band together as families, co-workers, and communities.

Looking ahead, we will do business differently. As a member-driven trade association, it will never be “business as usual” with the way many of us are used to planning. Still, I do believe we will strike a balance when it comes to providing the greatest value of professional development for our members.

Developing people in their job functions and leadership roles will always be vital to an organization’s success. When you stop investing in your people, they will stop investing in the business. Fortunately, many associations and companies have already started balancing face-to-face events with online offerings.

In-Person is Alive and Well (Just Different)

In-person meetings are not dead. As humans, we have a desire to connect, engage, and network in real time. Although, now we have now more opportunities to use technology in a way that supports members and clients while practicing caution as we face so many unknowns. We’ve heard from many association members about how they are using webinars not only to support continued education but also to keep staff engaged during a time when they may not have a full workload. With more options for webinars and virtual events, consider how you can expand the number of staff who receive valuable training.

Although organizations shifted to provide more webinars and new virtual conferences, in-person meetings for learning and networking are still vital. The difference will be what I think of as “COVID-19 Best Practices,” with more social distancing, handwashing and hand sanitizer stations, and a flexible refund policy should we need to change direction at the last minute. When we do meet in person, we will get creative with food service, room layout, and networking. We want our members to feel confident registering for events, knowing that we are monitoring the current climate and will adjust as needed for the safety of our staff and members.

The Future of Meetings

I have been asked if I think all meetings will be virtual moving forward since, we know we can accommodate that medium. I am confident when I say that there will continue to be value in face-to-face meetings. Like with most things, it’s about striking a balance. The lessons that can be learned during a 30-60-90-minute webinar should be conducted as such. Developing 5-10-minute videos for microlearning will help to offer those with limited time the opportunity to get training. Face-to-face meetings will provide engagement to network with others and discuss common challenges and interests and work through solutions.

Live, in-person meetings will look different, however, organizations that primarily focus on regional meetings will fare the best under the new conditions. Whether you attend an event in-person or online, the critical factor is participation. Now more than ever, we need to come together, share ideas and learn new processes.

Tamra Gaines

 Tamra Gaines, CMM is Vice President of Experiences and Events for a trade association of credit unions. She has almost three decades experience in the meetings and hospitality industry currently serving on the board of VisitMcKinney, in McKinney, Texas. Tamra can often be found speaking on topics that motivate and inspire others. She can be reached at Tamra (at) or