As much as I enjoy a good genealogy conference, it's not always possible to schedule travel and funds for a three or four-day event. That's when I find that online learning or an individual class or retreat are a bit more my style. Geneabloggers topic this week, Genealogy Conferences - The Magic Recipe, and yesterday's email newsletter from the New England Historic Genealogical Society featuring the upcoming Come Home to New England Get-Away remind me that there is a time and place for all types of events.
I attended the NEHGS Spring Getaway in April 2009, and it is highlight of my research and learning experiences. At the time, I was recently "retired" from teaching and found myself with time to travel and work on my genealogy skills; unfortunately, my friends were either unavailable or uninterested in genealogy. The NEHGS Getaway was perfect. Each day provided a full program, the staff was friendly and helpful, and other attendees were enjoyable people to spend the day with. Of course, it helped that Boston is a great city, and NEHGS is located in a comfortable neighborhood within easy walking distance of hotels, restaurants, shops, and parks.
Since that spring, I have attended a national conference, several regional conferences, local society seminars, online classes, and webinars. I've always learn something new, and each type of event has been a good fit at different times in my life.
There are many reasons I like distance learning such as online classes, webinars, and tutorials. It's less expensive, doesn't involve travel time or expense, and is self-paced. Probably the biggest advantage to home education is that you can customize your learning to study what you need when you need it, so that your personal research is advanced as you learn. It can be a bit lonely when you're home alone at your computer, although at times that's okay.
Conferences and seminars deliver even more opportunities to hear top-notch speakers on a great variety of topics. The first time I attended a conference alone, I didn't know anyone at all. I sat in sessions all day, made small-talk at the lunch tables, and went home exhausted but excited about my research.
The next year, I attended the same conference, but so much had changed. As a blogger, I "knew" all kinds of people and looked forward to meeting them in real life. The conference organizers recognized this new group of attendees and scheduled meet-up events where Facebook Friends, Twitter peeps, and bloggers could meet in real time, and maybe make plans for lunch or dinner. It was easy to find people, easy to connect. It made a difference; the conference became an enjoyable social event as well as an educational opportunity.
In my experience, the small group retreat at NEHGS was the best of both individual and group learning. The expert staff members were able to direct my research toward positive outcomes, and the other attendees provided new ideas and motivation. I was learning new skills and making concrete progress with my own research at the same time. I went home not only enthusiastic about my work, but several steps further along than when I arrived.
I've found that different kinds of learning experiences suit me at different times in my life, and I'm glad to have so many options available. Of course, organizers of these events know they are competing for the time and money of attendees. National and regional conferences are exciting, online classes are enriching, and retreats and tours can help break-through brick walls with focused research assistance exactly where its needed. It's nice to have so many choices.