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Virtual and hybrid meetings are found widely applied both in a blended learning educational environment and the vigorous meeting industry. Meeting literature in both disciplines show overlap, similarities and different preferences. Extant meeting research within blended learning educational environment should be acknowledged and built on within the realm of meeting studies. Practical meeting professionals’ experience is encouraged to have more concern on prevailing virtual and hybrid meetings in blended higher education. A synthetic review of the previous hybrid meeting studies, using a meta-analysis, will prepare for the proposal of a complex adaptive hybrid meetings system model, a preliminary new adapted meeting competence model and a virtual and hybrid meeting effectiveness evaluation model by examining the previous meeting studies. Relations of stakeholders and other components of the system will be investigated and evaluated, followed by an empirical study of hybrid meetings. The system, competence and effectiveness models will add to the theoretical researches and the empirical study will enrich the findings of the existing practices from design to outcomes by filling the gap of virtual and hybrid meetings as a shared research area for both blended learning and a realm of virtual and hybrid event study.

Key Words:

Evaluative; Effectiveness; Competence; Virtual; Hybrid; Meetings; Blended Learning; Higher Education; Event; Presences; Community; Management.

I Introduction

During my teaching (ESL and ESP) for undergraduates and postgraduates in a China university, students and I have organized some workshop, seminars, simulation academic international conferences in blended learning environment via the self-learning platform, the university library system and social media like WeChat. And our teaching reform programs on blended learning and multilevel academic learning communities encourage me to explore virtual and hybrid meeting studies for university students when pedagogical strategies need more support in the application of the meetings into course design and practice. Starting with the terminologies, the more knowledge on meeting studies, the more interest aroused for research on virtual and hybrid meetings in blended learning and where meeting is identified as research field.

Meeting is “an event where the primary activity of the attendees is to attend educational sessions, participate in discussions, social functions, or attend other organized events” (Convention Industry Council, 2011; Fenich, 2016). The meeting formats cover a lecture (one presentation), seminar/webinar (typically several presentations, workshop (smaller, with active participants), small audience, one day), conference (mid-size, one or more days), congress (massive, several days). Meetings are changing quickly as new and innovative information and communication meeting technologies (ICTMs) are incorporated (Chudoba, Watson-Manheim, Crowston, & Lee, 2011). Virtual meetings are digital events, meeting and learning technologies that include webcasting (streaming media); virtual environments (2D and 3D) such as virtual events, virtual trade shows, conferences, campuses, learning environments; and business environments (PC MA, 2011). Blended learning (BL), refers to learning events or an innovative learning approach, used interchangeably with hybrid learning or mixed learning, most commonly refers to.

Blended learning/hybrid learning, commonly referring to “face-to-face (F2F) classroom practices combined with computer-mediated activities regarding content and delivery” for “the best of both worlds”, has gained its widespread application and increasing importance in tertiary education, professional development and training settings (Graham, 2006; Valerie, 2012; Whittaker, 2013; Lothridge et, al. 2013) as the synchronal and asynchronous emerging information communication technologies enhanced the interactive and collaborative features in various ways by integrating them into F2F instruction. Virtual meetings as a new pedagogical format or for training purpose for students or teachers are playing an essential role via communication, interaction and collaboration of blended learning environment (BLS US, 2010).

Hybrid was first mentioned in 2003 in educational academic literature and hybrid teaching methods were compared with F2F teaching methods as well as an investigation of their effectiveness (Dowling, Godfrey, & Gyles, 2003). Hybrid meetings, also called blended meetings or dispersed meetings drew researchers’ attention since 2005 and studies boomed from 2009.

Hybrid meetings or blended-type meetings by delivering content through a mix of in-person and online components often follows a blended learning approach or as part of blended learning. Blended learning preferred specific format terms rather than the general term virtual meetings, hybrid meetings or mixed meetings. With the advance of the third to the fifth online meeting/conferencing technologies in blended learning environment, learners/attendees are offered increasing better and more pre-to-post experience. Design, organization, implementation, and purposes of virtual and hybrid meetings may vary a lot though, learners/attendees are provided similarly with the opportunities of information retention, personalized interactive and collaborative learning experience, and relationship building.

Hybrid meetings are more independently recognized as an essential segment of event study in event and hospitality discipline. Rapidly developed hybrid business companies unanimously post on their homepages meeting tips of virtual and hybrid meetings. Fifty percent of meeting planners have a plan of a hybrid event according to research by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) a global community for the meeting and event industry. Research on hybrid events conducted by MPI suggests meeting planners employ hybrid meetings to share content, ideas, and experiences with attendees across multiple geographies and time zones. In 2016, Link Administration Holdings Limited (Link Group) held its first annual general meeting (AGM) as a listed company and used its technology to enable shareholders to participate in the AGM, either in person or online. (Jones, 2017). An Economic Significance Study (ESS) in 2018 conducted by Oxford Economics shows the meeting and event industry as a vital economic driver (only cooperate and business meetings), while creating millions of jobs, contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

Contrast to the vast and diverse practices, there are few academic researches on virtual meetings or hybrid meetings (Pearlman & Gates, 2010), either as part of blended learning or in business are lacking despite the fact that hybrid meeting is recognized an approved efficient way for teaching, as the future of the meeting industry (Fryatt, et al, 2012) and highly promoted by many meeting solutions and increasingly applied by academic or social organizations and businesses.

Literature (67 English articles) till 2012 pertaining to virtual and hybrid meetings can see an overlap between educational studies and hospitality studies. It is suggested that researchers within the field of hospitality should be reaching out to the field of education to use existing research in  an  effort  to  further  advance  the  meeting  industry  literature (Sox,2015). Our extended review over twenty years’ span of virtual and hybrid meetings finds information and communication technologies have promoted meeting practice and researches. An obvious observation is that the previous research themes and theories with regard to meetings studies are much different. Mutual application in BL and E&H can fill in the gap of the current meeting research both in theory and for practice to serve better outcomes of virtual and hybrid meetings.

This research first will utilize meta-analysis to do a synthetic review of the previous studies between 1998 and 2018 on virtual and hybrid meetings. Earliest studies are (found by our literature so far) a study in medical education (CME) using interactive videoconferencing to four communities in Nova Scotia (Langille, 1998) and a report on 1999 of Scottish University’s experience of delivering tutorial video‐conferencing seminars to dispersed student groups for the purpose of continuing professional development. Grounded on the review, a complex adaptive virtual and hybrid meeting system model (CAVHMS) will be proposed by integrating the complex adaptive learning system (CALS) into virtual and hybrid meeting context. A preliminary new adaptive meeting competence model is set up for meeting stakeholders since we believe a more positive attitude and proactive practices should be encouraged. An adapted virtual and hybrid effectiveness evaluation model will serve evaluation purpose. We will see effectiveness and the limitations of the models via their applications in the empirical studies.

II Previous studies

The meetings have gained recognition as an academic field by growth in higher education programs including courses, programs, and textbooks, as well as research (Draper, Thomas, & Fneich, 2017). Sox (2015) pointed out the educational components within meeting definitions and the overlap of content offering a research opportunity greatly encourages further research, but there is a further discussion in his paper (Sox, 2015).

We search the previous studies with the key words of “virtual meetings”, “hybrid meetings”, “blended learning”, “conferencing”, “event”, “hospitality” and their combinations over a span of twenty years between 1998 and 2018. Academic researches on virtual and hybrid meetings more than doubled in the past five years than the first ten years since 2002 in the three major journal subjects of education, hospitality and tourism, information communication technology.

Virtual and hybrid meeting studies in education develop fast in higher education blended learning curriculum context. Higher education (counting library in) and hospitality top the disciplines together with computer sciences. Virtual and hybrid meetings appear as virtual component(s) within higher education blended learning curriculum and courses, or for academic or professional training and development for both students and faculty. A lot more recent empirical studies explore videoconferences (Lawson, et, al, 2010) and webinar/online seminars (Hudson, et, al, 2014; Sypsas, Toki, & Pange, 2015) as virtual formats of blended learning in more specific higher education areas mainly including medical and health education (Bell 2009; Faulkner,2001; Rossaro, 2007), business and management education (Ainsworth, 2016; Dowling, et, al, 2003; Julsrud, Hjorthol, & Denstadli, 2012; White, 2014), language education (Wang, 2008; Wang, 2010; Kato; Spring; Mori, 2016), academic education, especially academic conferences for graduates (Bessudnov, et, al, 2014; Castronova,2013), professional education including teacher education (Crawford, et, al, 2002; BoschSijtsema; Sivunen, 2013; Sox, 2017) , and interdisciplinary education (Viteri & Tobler, 2009; Lotrecchiano, et, al, 2013). Recent expansion of virtual and hybrid meetings in higher education requires effective meeting theories and methods to guide and guarantee a successful meeting in blended learning.

Meeting researches mainly focus on one aspect or more aspects of one or more steps of a meeting. Those taking a more comprehensive perspective from design to assessment only focused on the specific meeting program. Meeting researches are rather fragmented than systematic in the three aspects of meeting success of people, progress, and technologies. Meeting people (stakeholders), especially designers, organizers, attendees or multi-roles of teachers and students in a blended educational context, involve in both evolution and acceptance of meeting technologies, accordingly the established or new meeting formats, and the process of design, implementation and management, involve.

Evolution and acceptance of meeting technologies

In nearly three decades, ICMTs and more engaging of virtual components were advancing essentially with great changes to the look of higher education and the meeting industry. One of the most important ICMTs trends is the provision of Wi-Fi at meeting venues and researchers agree that this feature is essential to stay competitive (Davidson, 2004; Davidson & Rogers, 2003; Holloway et. al., 2009). There are three types of meeting technologies based on their functions: scheduling and planning; participation; and data storage, retrieval, and recording (C. Erik Timmerman, Chang Shik Choi, 2017). These emerging conferencing technologies were named as audio-conferencing, video-conferencing, web-based conferencing, multi-desktop virtual conferencing, cloud-conferencing, smart conferencing and mobile-conferencing applications. Smartphones and affordable wireless, data/streaming video brought meetings onto users’ fingertips. Social media also allow more paths for virtual and hybrid meetings through social networking and interactive connectivity.

By integrating videoconferencing technologies into learning designs, lecturers can utilize them to assist students with formulating questions geared towards higher order learning, provide varied learning opportunities to fit their students’ disparate needs, enhance class interactivity, and increase students’ intercultural learning. (Altinar, 2015; Candarli & Yuksel 2012; Crawford, 2002; Wali, 2017). More format comparison of traditional physical meeting and virtual meeting formats aims to find a better hybrid convergence of both and explore how to “learn” from personal communication advantage of F2F rather than discussing which is more effective than the other. More concerns are not on if emerging meeting technologies should be accepted but in what way the acceptance can better the effectiveness of virtual and hybrid meetings.

Compared with most articles of acceptance focusing on business meeting planners or conference attendees’ perceptions, generational preferences, intension, motivation or adoption by adopting human behavior theories (Benjamin, Carpenter, & Strick, 2013; Sox, 2012; Sox, et, al. 2016; Severt, Wang, Chen, & Breiter, 2007; Sox, 2013; Yu, Lin, & Liao, 2017), it is similar that student’s perceptions of ICMT especially video-conferencing are most discussed, followed by teacher’s perception in higher education. (Candarli & Yuksel, 2012; McConnell, 2013; Parker, Eberhardt, Koehler, &Lundeberg, 2013). Some authors make the point that when adopting blended synchronous learning, teachers need time for boundary negotiation and adaptation of strategies, and students need space and time for practice so as to become comfortable and familiar with the approach (Szeto & Cheng, 2014).

Attitudes and perceptions are seen progressing and evolving into more positive experiences with regard to the utilization of technology in meetings studies. We suppose that acceptance of the applied meeting technologies by designers, organizers, speakers/presenters, audience, or teachers and students will all have joint positive impact on the meeting design, implementation and management, therefore on the effectiveness of virtual and hybrid meetings.

Process: design, implementation and management

There are some high frequency key words describing the reasons for virtual and hybrid meeting designers and organizers: saving time, lowering cost, increasing attendance, being sustainable, enhancing communication… With regard to information-centered or student–centered design, Masoodian (2001) held that information-centered design focusing on the identification of the type of information and the way to collect and utilize information for the users of a virtual meeting environment. It also plays an important role in facilitating interaction and communication between the members of a community (Masoodian, 2001). While student-centered/learner-centered/attendee-centered is believed as guide of blended learning and meeting industry design. Student-centered academic virtual communities are appropriate for identifying virtual communities that are appropriate as open-ended learning environments (Nistor, 2014).

Hybrid model needs to consider the content of material and maturity level of the participant to be successful (Schaefer & Erskine, 2012). Generation theory was encouraged to be an important meeting design consideration. A generational perspective is recommended to consider for meeting design for best practices, opportunities, and barriers of marketing and planning virtual and hybrid meetings for Generation X in the United States (Sox, 2014). Generations’ difference on the choice of convention and the intension of using mobile application (Lee & Lee, 2014) gave insights to meeting design. For a blended course meeting design, objectives are particularly critical for blended courses because objectives can inform content delivery mechanism (in class or online), pedagogy (bridging between the classroom and online activities), and requisite amount and locations for class meetings and interactions (McGee & Reis, 2012).

Blended learning community is widely utilized in higher education blended learning environment. University of Sydney developed blended learning communities augmenting faculty academic management structures and providing a one stop website that coordinates all ICT support across the university (Applebee, Ellis, & Sheely, 2004). Most organizations now make use of virtual teams with the need to reduce travel and related costs, audio and video technologies were introduced. The dynamics and management of virtual teams are different in almost every respect to co-located teams. The benefits and challenges of virtual teams are outlined, with particular reference to the effective management of language, cultural, time and location aspects of virtual teams and virtual meetings (White, 2014) Virtual communities connecting due to common interests fall under the category of meetings based on the definition of events where the primary attendee activity can include socializing (Fenich, 2012). Crawford acknowledged the need to better understand the leader’s role in virtual learning communities and the growth of the virtual community and the perceptions of educational leaders (Crawford, 2002). Empirical data from an online survey with 249 participants show that community factors such as communication, collaboration, and cooperation play a pivotal role in influencing user intention and acceptance of Virtual Worlds (Fetscherin & Lattemann, 2008). The implementation of professional learning communities (PLCs) shows videoconferencing as an effective tool for facilitating PLCs when distance and time are practical barriers to face-to-face meetings (McConnell 2013).

Interaction and collaboration are highly valued and gaining more academic attention in meeting design, implementation and management. Blended reality collaborative environments allow students to allow participants in an immersive virtual world and participants in a physical space to interact with one another in real time. (Bower, Lee & Darlgano, 2015). The concept of collaborative bandwidth, the number and capacity of channels available to support group work is proved as a key to successful online collaboration. Graphic facilitation was proposed and has been shown to increase engagement and effectiveness both face-to-face meetings and collaborative bandwidth in virtual meetings (Smith, 2014).

Academic-peer-mentoring in higher education has become more widespread. A well-designed formal academic-peer-mentoring program can act as a useful interventional tool to improve the student experience (Cornelius, Wood, & Lai, 2016). There are another two experimental studies of meeting professionals in teaching. One design for students to meet industry managers encouraged meeting professionals involved in meeting education and the other, adopting Knowledge Management theory, incorporated industry knowledge into curriculum with an aim to produce better educated students (Sox, 2016). Through consultation with industry professionals and use of a modified Delphi technique, best practices, opportunities, and barriers for planning virtual and hybrid meetings were identified and then incorporated into the Meeting and Business Event Competency Standards (Sox, 2017).

Many higher educations included at least one meeting, event planning, or management course. Meeting Professionals International released the MBECS curriculum guide to assist educators in providing quality programming to students. Non meeting professionals may apply the management knowledge into their meeting management. Management also refers to self-regulation of attendees. Active virtual attendees join in virtual meeting activities lacking impersonal communication via self-management and co-regulation. Effective regulatory strategies are crucial for high team performance and for team skills development (Ainsworth, 2016).

Design, implementation and management in both blended learning and professional meetings, involve all the meeting elements including ICMTs, all the parties (sponsors, designers, organizers, speakers/presenters, attendees/members, audience) and their perceptions, choices, acceptance, delivery, and regulation. Any of design, implementation and management is a subsystem of the holistic system of hybrid meetings. The joint contribution of all the subsystems will guarantee the best meeting experiences and outcomes.

Evaluation of virtual and hybrid meetings

Research themes have the biggest group of assessment and evaluation studies with key words in the titles, including effects, effectiveness, reflections, assessment, pros and cons, success and failure, pedagogical benefits and limitations. Assessment and evaluation of effectiveness may exist all the way through virtual and hybrid meetings, from organizational effects, costs, formats, impact of virtual environment, acceptability, motivation, interaction, collaboration, relationship and outcomes.

Here is a list of them: 1) Assessment of the acceptability and costs of interactive videoconferencing for continuing medical education (Langille, Sargeant, Allen, 1998); 2) Evaluation of meeting formats in conference poster sessions (Bell, Buckley, Evans, & Lloyd-Jones, 2009); 3) Evaluation of organizational effects of virtual meetings focusing on the conference poster sessions (Lindeblad, Voytenko, Mont, & Arnfalk, 2016); 4) Structured presentation and complications analysis see the improvement in educational effectiveness of conferences (Kim, et, al, 2010); 5) Evaluation of conference impact and the virtual meeting environment; 6) Evaluation of motivation for MOOC meetings, for flipped classroom meetings, and leisure motivation (Bulger, Bright, & Cobo, 2015; Chen, Wang, Kinshuk, & Chen, 2014; Tretyakevich & Maggi, 2012)

Some articles evaluate the relationship in hybrid meetings. One article evaluated the relationship between student characteristics, design features and outcomes; Delphi Method was used to determine best practices, opportunities, and barriers (Sox, 2016). Another examined the motivation, perceived performance, and behavioral intentions of convention attendees attending a regional conference (Severt, Fjelstul & Breiter, 2013; Maire, 2011; Maire, et, al. 2018). A comparison of perceived effectiveness and recommended improvements in a meeting at work tried to find why a large proportion of meetings continue to be regarded as a poor use of time, despite a substantial body of literature on how to make improvements (Geimer, et, al, 2015). A program evaluation based within three theoretical frames (learning organization, communities of practice and knowledge construction) suggests the theoretical framework enhanced the ‘output’ of conference attendees’ mega-, macro- and micro-level learning (Lotrecchiano, et, al, 2013).

Evaluation researchers have confirmed the importance of conference evaluation, but there remains little research on the topic, perhaps in part because meeting evaluation methodology related to conference impact is underdeveloped (Milko, et, al, 2015). A system evaluation model is supposed to provide a more comprehensive view of meeting evaluation.

In general, though might be partial, meeting research needs to be more positive in having more competent stakeholders. We thus propose a complex adaptive system model, a new a preliminary meeting competence model and a hybrid meeting effectiveness evaluation model to serve the purpose of reestablishing meeting studies to include higher education blended learning environment and develop a competence model and an accessible meeting systems evaluation model.

III Theoretical framework

Theoretical framework offers the opportunity to explain better the research topic as well as a chance to improve the research and the theory itself (Chigona & Licker, 2008). This future research adopts a system evaluative theoretical framework.

Complex adaptive system

Systems composed of many interacting parts that evolve and adapt over time. Originating in physics, chemistry, and mathematics, complex adaptive systems theory has been widely used to gain an understanding into the complexity of dynamic and non-linear systems such as neural systems, ecologies, galaxies, and social systems (Bertalanffy, 1968; Waddington, 1977; Waldrop, 1992). Complex adaptive system has the following properties: many interacting parts, emergent phenomena, adaptation, specialization & modularity, dynamic change, competition and cooperation, decentralization, and non-linearity. They are complex in that they are dynamic networks of interactions, and their relationships are not aggregations of the individual static entities, i.e., the behavior of the ensemble is not predicted by the behavior of the components. They are adaptive in that the individual and collective behavior mutate and self-organize corresponding to the change-initiating micro-event or collection of events. They are a “complex macroscopic collection” of relatively “similar and partially connected micro-structures” formed in order to adapt to the changing environment and increase their survivability as a macro-structure. (Anish & Gupta, 2010; Miller & Page ,2009; Mitleton-Kelly,2003).

Virtual and hybrid meetings are perceived having their natural complex adaptive system features of pre-meeting, ongoing meeting and post-meeting stages for remote/online and physical venues, technologies, content and attendance. The ideal best outcomes for all the stakeholders involve a complex of increasing attendance, smooth and effective application of all fittest technologies and implementation and participation of all activities with expected active interaction and collaboration, where a meeting system includes complex components of designer/planner, organization (institution), technologies (including technology support), attendee (member/learner/audience), speaker (presenter/panel/expert /instructor), cost, site, device are co-contributive in adapting to emerging adopted ICMT and every emergent moment of virtual and hybrid meetings.

Competence Model

Effectiveness evaluation

Many kinds of evaluations can be applied to programs, for example, goals-based, process-based and outcomes-based. Program evaluation is a systematic research method for collecting, analyzing, and using information to answer questions about projects, policies, and programs, particularly about their effectiveness and efficiency. Evaluation of a program formalizes this through a systematic process of collection and analysis of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of a program with the purpose of making judgments about the program (Zint, Nd, citing Patton 1987).

IV. Research methods and data

A system approach combined with a survey questionnaire, interview will be used for the evaluation of the effectiveness of the complex adaptive virtual and hybrid meeting model (CAHM).

V. Implications and conclusions

This future theoretical and empirical research aims to carry out these following to meetings theoretical and empirical studies and practices. A synthetic review of literature fills in the gap of research of virtual and hybrid meetings in BL environment in higher education and event and hospitality. The proposal of virtual and hybrid meeting system model provides the researchers a system research perspective. Extant meeting research within educational studies should be acknowledged and built on within the realm of meeting studies. Researches on virtual and hybrid meetings within the field of blended learning environment can be used and further expand those within hospitality pertaining to virtual and hybrid meetings. More attention to and more effective practice of virtual and hybrid meetings blended learning formats from institutions/organizers, speakers/ presenters, attendees/students/teachers are encouraged for the best of blended learning. System perspective of meeting effectiveness evaluation will comprehensively better design, implementation, management and outcomes of virtual and hybrid meetings. Sharing and using research between disciplines also offer great opportunity between the researchers within each of these disciplines to further advance this body of knowledge.


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