Covid-19 has upended every industry, study abroad or higher education industry is no exception. But like others the study abroad industry too is gradually getting back to normal, with changes that otherwise would have taken long to come into action. The way we conduct business as usual has undergone a tremendous change.
Education fairs are an important aspect of the higher education industry, not just for the organizers but for the students as well as the participating universities. Being present in one place gives a great opportunity for participants to interact and gather the right information. This helps students chalk their future course of action based on their direct interaction with the university representatives. However, the pandemic has made us all cautious of large physical gatherings be it –seminars, professional gatherings, or fairs.
With changing times and the advent of technology, it became imperative to innovate and go digital with the format of international education fairs, keeping in mind the importance of human interaction. With more and more students becoming tech-savvy or getting more comfortable with digital interactions, virtual education fairs today seem to have become the “new normal” providing an edge over traditional format in many ways.
The biggest advantage of a virtual education fair is the comfort it provides with time and location. Participants are not restricted on these aspects, unlike a traditional education fair where hundreds of students have to reach a location and have limited time to physically interact with the university representatives. The venue or location itself becomes a big consideration for aspiring students. For instance- If events are organized at far-off locations, students have to be prepared to travel long distances to reach the venue, which becomes mentally draining and tiring for them. Second, the need to reach and book appointments early to be able to get enough time to speak to university representatives adds additional pressure. These are concerns that cause stress and anxiety, which results in many potential students giving up on the idea of attending an education fair altogether.
A virtual fair takes care of all these concerns. Being online, students certainly do not have to worry about travelling to a location. Attending a virtual fair is always just a click away. Online interactions give organizers more time to interact with a larger number of students to provide them with the information they are seeking and at the same time clear their doubts. Students can also login at a time suitable to them which helps them focus better on gathering the right information. This is especially useful for those with jobs. They can access virtual education fairs anytime, anywhere.
Being physical traditional education fairs call for more time investment both for students as well as for the university representatives. Participants are hard pressed for time as they want to interact with as many university representatives as possible. This causes students to wait in long queues for hours for their turn to come to speak with a representative or a counsellor. With virtual fairs, the wait time is reduced to half. Chatting with representatives/counsellors online makes it easier for students to get to the point quicker, enabling more students to interact with a greater number of university representatives and vice versa. With technology, the response time at virtual education fairs gets better, which helps save students a lot of time. With interactive tools, students can easily set up personalised, one-on-one chat sessions with university representatives and counsellors.
Another advantage of a virtual education fair is that students get access to both live and recorded presentations and webinars. As students join in at different times, organizers take care that everybody who attends the fair gets equal access to information. Those who join live presentations or webinars have the benefit of interacting with the presenter/speaker live, but those who cannot, are not left behind either. Organizers and participating universities provide access to recorded sessions for interested students to access them as per their requirements.
Universities too find it easier to share and showcase relevant information with the students at virtual fairs. Technology enables more customization with which they are able to provide an immersive experience to potential students, regarding all the aspects of information they want to share with participating students.
Students attend education fairs as they seek answers to their queries from credible sources. In the traditional form of education fairs, with a large turnout conducting small focused sessions always presents itself as a challenge for organizers/universities. In the virtual or digital format of education fairs, with multiple sessions at the same time, it becomes easier for university representatives to manage all queries seamlessly. Need be with breakout sessions smaller focused group sessions are conducted online to discuss specific topics of interest for the students where they can discuss and ask questions on topics they want more or detailed information on. Such breakout sessions are helpful for those students who require more personalized interactive sessions or find it difficult to interact with the presenters as part of a large audience.
Compared to the traditional format virtual education fairs provide a more interactive environment for the students. With limited time there is only so many organizers can do at a traditional physical event. At a virtual event, organizers have the access to provide participants with services like live chats, live Q&A, conduct live polls, networking sessions- one on one or in small groups of 3-4 attendees, conduct contests, quizzes and many other such activities that make the entire experience of attending a virtual education fair an interactive one for students.
A lot of universities participate in education fairs. In the traditional format, students go to different booths to visit and talk to university representatives. They collect elaborate brochures in the process for every booth they visit. By the end of it, students have a pile of booklets or brochures to take back home with them. Generally, only one of two are utilized and the rest are forgotten as there is only so much information one can remember to refer to. With physical copies, there is always a chance of misplacement.
In a virtual fair, students can choose to download marketing collateral such as brochures only if they want them and when they want them. Once downloaded they are easily accessible and one can refer to them when required. Being paperless this practice is environment friendly as well. One need not download all the brochures at once, a student can first attend sessions of their choice and then if need be collected marketing material that is easier to save and organize.
As students meet a lot of university representatives, in traditional form of education fairs, the only way to remember and categorize information based on their interaction is to make notes. Without making notes it becomes challenging for students to remember all the details and without a written reference the information might get mixed up. Making notes while speaking, can also be distracting especially when one is hard pressed for time.
In a virtual fair one doesn’t have to worry about making physical notes in order to remember everything. Students interact with university reps through live chats, which can easily be saved by the students for future reference. Live presentations and Q&A sessions too are made available in the form of recorded sessions by the organizer. This takes away the stress from students of taking notes during the interaction.
There are plenty of advantages of attending a virtual education fair. The misconception of lack of human interaction is taken care of with the help of features and services like one-on-one online sessions, breakout sessions and network lounges at virtual fairs. Advancement in technology and innovation thereof has made it possible for organizers to reach a wider audience and provide attendees with a better and enhanced experience. Virtual education fairs are time savers for students and being high customized they serve the need of the students as good as traditional education fairs, sometimes even better than them.
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