Expand Your Learning via the #DevLearn Backchannel

The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference and Expo is here, and with it returns a vibrant backchannel community that shares and expands on the knowledge being exchanged on site.  It’s a tremendously valuable way for both conference attendees and non-attendees to enhance their conference-related learning.

Backchannels extend learning beyond just the live event. Prior to the conference, the backchannel enables attendees to connect and get to know one another. They enable sharing that starts conversations that continue when the live event actually starts. During the conference, the backchannel is an excellent resource for extending learning as well. Attendees (and those following the backchannel from afar) can share key learning points and expand on the learning by adding their own reflections and related resources. Backchannels also help reinforce learning after the event, as people share their reflections about what they’ve learned and how they are applying new skills.

Backchannels can also be a great source of future learning, as the resources that are shared can be referenced as a continuing source of learning for weeks and months after events end. I’ll be curating the DevLearn Conference and Expo backchannel so that the valuable resources being shared are available as an ongoing reference and learning tool after the event.

Wikipedia defines a backchannel as:

…the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.

That definition, while accurate, is somewhat misleading.  The phrase ‘networked computers’ conveys an image of desktop PCs that are connected to one another through a network.  In most cases, the computers used in a backchannel aren’t found on a desk; they’re found in your pocket.  If you’ve been to a conference or training event in recent years, you’ve probably had this experience:

You’re sitting in a conference listening to the speaker, and the person next to you appears to be more interested in their smartphone than in what the presenter is saying.  Then as you look around, you realize that there are plenty of others that are typing away while the speaker is presenting.

Years ago this sort of activity would be seen as rude and disrespectful to the person speaking.  It was a sign that the attendee was completely disinterested in what was being discussed, and had their attention elsewhere.

Quite often, the setting described here is actually showing the exact opposite.

In some cases it may simply be that the notes that were once taken on paper are now being taken electronically.  What’s taking place in increasingly large numbers is that people are going beyond just note taking, and have begun to interact with the information being discussed in new ways.

Through social media (usually Twitter), conference attendees can share their thoughts and ideas about the information being shared with others.  It could be as simple as taking the notes I might normally compile for myself and sharing them with the world at large.  What’s more exciting about this sharing is it extends beyond just notes from the presentation. Conference attendees share their own thoughts and experiences about the content.  They share additional resources that add to those shared by the speakers.  In short, through their sharing, they expand the content and become a part of the presentation.

Even more powerful is that this sharing breaks through the walls of the session, sharing the content with anyone that is interested in reading it – even those that are not attending the session.  It is this sharing and expansion of content during a live event that is referred to as ‘The Backchannel’.

How to participate in the DevLearn Backchannel

The DevLearn backchannel can take place on any social media platform that someone wants to share on. However, in my expereince the majority of the sharing takes place on two platforms: The conference app and Twitter.

The Conference App

If you’re attending DevLearn and haven’t downloaded the conference app, you should do so. Not only is it a great resource for planning your time at DevLearn via its robust agenda and scheduling options, but it’s also a valuable tool for extending learning via the apps vibrant social activity feed.

Throughout the conference (as well as before and after the event) attendees share their thoughts, key learnings, and other ideas with fellow attendees. There are robust threads that dive deep into topics, often expanding on the content shared in sessions and taking the learning in new and exciting directions.

Not attending DevLearn this year? No worries; you can still learn from what attendees are sharing on Twitter.

Follow #DevLearn on Twitter

DevLearn attendees tend to be very active sharing what they are learning on Twitter, so it’s another great way to learn from what’s being shared, even if you’re not attending the event in person. It’s easy to see what’s being shared; here are three quick tips and links:

  • Follow the #DevLearn Hashtag for the latest tweets from the conference
  • Do an advanced search on Twitter to see only tweets with links or images
  • Follow the Guild’s Bianca Woods on Twitter; she’s always one of the most prolific tweeters and is excellent at capturing key takeaways.

However you engage in the backchannel, be sure to contribute to the conversation. It enhances the discussion and helps you put what you’re learning into your own context.

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