The pandemic prompted a rethink of the way Orthoptics Australia delivered its events. The unexpected advantages mean some online components will be here to stay, writes President JANE SCHULLER.
The global events industry has borne the brunt of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with a slew of ophthalmic conferences and associated trade exhibitions wiped off the 2020 events calendar.
With international travel off-limits and border closures across Australia, it is unlikely we will see face-to-face member educational and conference style events reinstated until at least the first quarter of 2021.
Despite many negative aspects of COVID-19, it has accelerated and forced positive change for Orthoptics Australia (OA). Pre-pandemic, many of our events were designed to bring people together often after work or at weekends – and at a time or location that didn’t always suit.
Our membership is unevenly distributed throughout Australia, with the majority of members residing in New South Wales and Victoria. This, and the impact of COVID-19, has forced a significant mind shift for us to move from a business model of mainly delivering face-to-face educational events – as we have done for several decades – to a heavier online focus.
As part of our overall strategy, one of our objectives has been to focus efforts on building our online continuing professional development capacity.
In January, OA launched its online learning management system ‘OAOE’ that hosts more than 80 meeting presentation recordings, online journal club modules and other content. The benefit of OAOE is that it allows members the flexibility to access the content when and how they wish to learn, and to complete the modules at their own pace in topics that interest them most.
Since March, all our orthoptic continuing education seminars have been delivered as virtual events and several other state-based meetings have been converted into a combination of on-demand and live content for members.
Initially there was concern that the networking aspect of these meetings would be lost, but we are embracing new ways for interaction to still occur. We have incorporated measures such as Slido and live Q&A sessions so registrants can interact with speakers. Our attendees still have opportunities to view content and interact with our sponsors through a virtual satchel.
Even our beloved annual conference – which has been an annual tradition for many of us to learn from and network with colleagues across Australia – has been transformed into a virtual feast; two days of research and clinical presentations, live Q&A sessions and a virtual exhibition. It has been an excellent opportunity to access several outstanding international speakers to diversify and further enhance the scientific program.
OA’s online transition was possible after we invested in a new user-friendly learning management system in early 2019 that allows us to create, share and track online learning. With the intuitive software, we can create a variety of content and incorporate material from different formats including videos, slideshows, PDFs – all on a mobile supported platform.
Members can access the content anywhere. The other benefit is it integrates with other technologies including our association management system so we can link CPD points to membership and analyse how members are engaging and learning with our content.
The platform is simple to use but the biggest challenge initially was slow user uptake. During the lockdown we provided additional member support by offering free access to CPD until 31 July and this gave people an opportunity to try out the platform without any financial investment.
The member feedback has been positive, particularly in states or regional and rural areas where face-to-face events are less accessible. We will continue to monitor the feedback and enhance the offerings as we move into 2021.
OA industry supporters too have embraced the opportunity to engage with members and provide educational content via webinars and the OAOE platform.
As we move beyond COVID-19 to a ‘new normal’, there is no doubt many aspects of the new way to deliver continuing education will be here to stay.
Continuing to offer at least a portion of the continuing professional development events online allows great flexibility for members, greater opportunity for international speaker involvement and has the added advantage of reducing the cost of attending meetings for members.
There are other additional benefits of online learning that allow us to buy back time by eliminating travel – and it doesn’t matter where you’re located.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Schuller is the president of Orthoptics Australia. She currently works at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and a number of private ophthalmology clinics.