In the contemporary world, the great increase in the use of technology, with the resulting social and scientific implications, also has consequences for academic and scientific conferences and for the dissemination of knowledge itself. Our world is more and more linked to an increasingly digital future, in which "activities, information, and results in data that can be compiled, analyzed, and shared."

There are several proposals on how to organize a conference. Yet, it is interesting to note that the literature on the actual study of academic conferences is rather scarce. However, we will try to make a comparative analysis of two models of academic conferences, putting forth their advantages, limitations, and potentialities. Likewise, we will seek to reasonably envision the importance and challenges we will face soon in this blog article.

Why Do We Attend Academic Conferences?

Academic conferences have always been privileged spaces and moments for the dissemination of new scientific knowledge for social interaction and the establishment and development of networks among scientists, as well as between them and novice researchers. This interaction is, to some extent, vital to science. However, academic conferences can also be instances of surplus (profit attainment) and more or less formal instruments for assessing institutions. Academic conferences also work as spaces and moments of academic socialization processes. Every time we attend a conference, we are simultaneously constructing our own identities as academics: the things we do, the sessions we attend, the questions we ask (and refrain from asking), the connections we develop, and the ensuing research we work on are all part of making us into the selves that we experience and others see.

Thus, the importance of conferences and participating in them in terms of visibility and expectations is undeniable both at the professional, institutional, and personal levels. As a way of illustrating the importance of actively participating in conferences, one of the participant's testimonies is given below, which unequivocally demonstrates the personal and professional learning and development that his regular participation in conferences provided him:

"At that moment, I realized that, due to the confidence developed from the first conference, I was able to smartly deal with the questions and therefore look forward to presenting at similar conferences. Since then, I have been continuously participating in different conferences. Now I feel that I can present confidently and can learn so many things at conferences. Participating in different conferences has provided me with ideas and knowledge useful for my academic career. "

Should You Organize Your Academic Conference As A Live or A Virtual Event?

Conferences can and should be sites and moments that foster the active building of knowledge among participants. Then, and to some extent, academic conferences may also be seen as spaces and moments of collective learning.
Summing up, conferences are not only information-sharing situations but also, essentially, learning sites. The promotion of conditions for free participation is not only morally correct but also the best means for conferences to fulfill their goal of fostering communication and a moment of scientific learning, in the sense of stimulating learning for all in diversity.

Motivations For Attending An Academic Conference

Notwithstanding the existence of several motivations for participation in conferences, an interesting study, highlights the following ones:

  • Socializing with colleagues from other universities
  • Trip to a possibly exotic location
  • Experience famous keynote speakers and/or researchers
  • Attend presentations by peers
  • Present yourself so you become visible in the field, and 
  • Converse and discuss with other researchers.

Key Points For Organizing A Virtual Conference

  • Address time zone differences: timing is everything.
  • Test the available resources: to ensure that you can host the conference.
  • Manage bandwidth usage: to safeguard against conference interruptions.
  • The concept of virtual hubs: makes registration and participation simpler. 
  • Pre-recorded presentations: to gear up if the streaming video fails for any reason. 
  • Allocate time for presenter orientation: to ensure glitch-free schedule compliance. 
  • Establish dedicated virtual interaction rooms (e-lobbies): to ensure a practical platform for participant Q&A and networking. 
  • Troubleshoot technical glitches: Equip yourself for any foreseeable challenges. 
  • Get motivated: It's the key to your success. 
  • Participant feedback: useful for future reference

Virtual conferences, unlike face-to-face conferences, allow a large number of participants to benefit from being able to follow the main important aspects of these events. Many of these participating delegates would be prevented from attending face-to-face conferences, mainly due to a lack of funding to cover the conference costs (travel and accommodation) and the lack of time for traveling to distant countries.

A virtual conference may be an opportunity for social learning. For the author, the main principles that virtual conferences develop are the following:

1) The importance of social design and facilitation in promoting the development of a vibrant conference community,

2) The benefits of providing spaces and time for reflective conversation,

3) The need for multiple modes of engagement for a very diverse group of participants and

4) The customization of a stable yet versatile technological platform supported by a highly experienced team.

Should You Organize Your Academic Conference As A Live or A Virtual Event?

Virtual conferences allow academics to benefit from the different technologies of digital communication available to academics and highlights, such as communication across time and space, scope for reflective engagement, and access to a widely dispersed network with international and regional peers and experts. Thus, virtual conferences are excellent opportunities for the professional development of actors located all over the globe.

Virtual communication, specifically in the context of virtual academic conferences herewith discussed, is a dynamic construct that is dependent on a variety of factors, such as "time and experience, social influence, and appropriation. The authors characterize individuals who use virtual communication as active users who use the new media in their favor, advocating that the academic community (or others) no longer need to be physically in the same place at the same time.

Potentials and Challenges of Virtual Conferences

In addition to the many potential advantages that virtual conferences have, as demonstrated above, they also pose some challenges that must be carefully considered when choosing the format of a conference or scientific meeting. Online conferences can be considered as necessarily complex socio-technical systems, which raises deep and specific implications.

Online conference designers can face some challenges in supporting informal and social interaction among participants; however, these forms of interaction may be essential to developing the safety and trust required for effective engagement in formal conference activities, as well as the formation of professional relationships that last longer than the conference. The social design parameters available to conference organizers include boundaries, facilitation, modes of interaction, the balance between synchronous and asynchronous events, relevant modes of knowledge, the duration of the conference, and the conference outputs.

Should You Organize Your Academic Conference As A Live or A Virtual Event?

The use of technology by the participants, such as computer applications (apps) and online social networks, ensures that their digital literacy is sufficient so that this digital literacy interaction is fruitful. However, it can raise ethical questions and issues related to intellectual property rights on the online dissemination of new data, such as slide shows by non-presenting participants that were being presented for the first time at the conference.

If carefully and correctly planned, conferences and other virtual scientific events can be highly interactive. It is possible to emulate, in a significant way, face-to-face conferences, and the principles of inclusion, participation, and collaboration are respected and developed. Our learning from our evaluation has three core aspects first, a need for practice developers to grasp technology skills associated with virtual space; second, the need to embrace virtual space itself as another means by which creative and communicative spaces can be established for active learning and practice development activities; and finally, further exploration of the potential that international virtual engagement has over face-to-face national or international engagement.

The Table below offers the comparative advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face and virtual conferences

Comparison of Virtual and Live Academic Conferences

Should You Organize Your Academic Conference As A Live or A Virtual Event?

According to the table above, virtual conferences enable participants to obtain many of the benefits of in-person (face-to-face) conferences, with the advantage of reducing the financial and environmental costs involved in traveling to other countries. The authors, who are visibly favorable to this conference format, maintain that "virtual conferencing opens the door for researchers from poorly funded countries or institutions to more easily participate in the international research discussion.

It also provides a genuine alternative for those who choose to limit their carbon footprint by not traveling. Although virtual conferences are not expected to completely replace face-to-face conferences soon, one of their major advantages is that the use of virtual tools enables researchers and even students, especially those with financial difficulties, to participate in a greater number of scientific events.

On the other hand, any of the conference formats may be associated with predatory journals in an academic world where the pressure to publish is enormous. However, the fact that virtual conferences are certified helps to promote their quality while respecting the ethical code of conduct appropriate to each specific conference.


It may be ascertained that virtual conferences play an increasingly central role in this type of scientific dissemination, but without totally relegating the conference mode to face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, a hybrid that uses the best features of the two types of conferences starts to emerge and gains increasing relevance and support from the academic community. Such a comparison between face-to-face and virtual conferences concludes that there is a gap between these two conference formats where hybrids are possible. However, there is a need to deepen the studies in this field that allow, with growing scientific intentionality, the understanding of this academic and social phenomenon. On the other hand, the conferences' online dimension tends to take on an increasingly central role, but without totally relegating the physically present dimension.

Should You Organize Your Academic Conference As A Live or A Virtual Event?

If you are feeling dubious about your academic conference format, you should check out Meetinghand's versatile conference management solutions, which provide user-friendly and easy-to-use interfaces for both organizers and attendees. MeetingHand was designed to support live and virtual events in all aspects. By using MeetingHand, you can collect abstracts from the authors online and assign them to your reviewers for evaluation, then collect their evaluation results easily. MeetingHand, with its comprehensive virtual event module, allows academic organizers to plan and manage their events as an online conference securely. It allows you to provide meaningful engagement opportunities among your participants or between your sponsors and attendees. 

As an all-in-one event management software, MeetingHand provides many solutions for event planners, such as event registration management, abstract management, virtual event management, online payment collection, or an event mobile app. For more details, please visit our website or request a demo.

Journal of Educational and Social Research 9(2):35-47 - May 2019
Virtual and Face-To-Face Academic Conferences: Comparison and Potentials

Special thanks to,

Dr. Maria José Sá CIPES
Centre for Research in Higher Education Policies Matosinhos, Portugal Corresponding Author 

Dr. Carlos Miguel Ferreira
Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences – CICS.NOVA Lisboa, Portugal Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco 

Dr. Sandro Serpa
University of the Azores, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, Department of Sociology; Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences – CICS.UAc/CICS.NOVA.UAC; Interdisciplinary Centre for Childhood and Adolescence – NICA – UAc Ponta Delgada, Portugal