At its annual research meeting in late September, the Society for Organizational Learning, Cambridge, Mass., faced a major challenge: The majority of members did not want to travel because of 9/11, but SoL didn't want to lose their participation. So organizer Patrick Parker-Roach set up a webcast using AudioVideoWeb (www.audiovideoweb.com) and added a PictureTel videoconference of a team based in Oregon. He also provided teleconferencing for participants who preferred to experience it in audio only.

Most interesting were the meeting's many discussion forums, which were set up for online attendees as well as to continue the meeting dialogue when people went back to their rooms and hit their laptops in the evening.

Parker-Roach, founder of ThoughtRoads (www.thoughtroads.com), a consulting firm that specializes in organizational learning and change strategies, views the one-two punch of online meetings and discussion forums as being especially promising for training and decision-making meetings.

“They can be important for those learners who need some time to digest information before they are ready to contribute. Then they can post questions and comments to the online discussion forum, where their peers, the lecturers, and/or invited experts can participate. Selected discussion threads can be a repository for early project decisions.

“It's an organic, grassroots approach to knowledge management. You have everyone's energy for a set time, and then some of the discussions take on a life of their own. The ones that stick around — and the people that stick around for them — are the important ones.”