How virtual environments are helping and hurting real estate instruction
Over the past year, real estate investment (REI) organizations have scrambled to remain relevant and operative as the pandemic has shut down and altered in-person meetings. Mostly gone are the three-day live bootcamps, the annual conferences in vacation spots like Las Vegas and Orlando, and even the REIA meetings at hotels.
In their place are webinars and Zoom meetings. No doubt these changes have pushed some people out of business, but others have thrived. There are benefits to hosting meetings online. You can join from anywhere; it is much easier for an investor from out of town to regularly participate in activities in markets where they invest. You don’t have to travel, so a meeting takes up only the time of the meeting. You don’t even have to put on pants (but please manage your video appropriately). And you can reach a higher number of attendees.
From an instructor point of view, it has become easier to create permanent content just by recording the meetings and making them available to students who couldn’t make the meeting time. This further increases the number of students and allows an instructor to teach once and let students learn multiple times. But not all the value from REI is easily maintained in a virtual environment.
When I go to conferences, I am usually less interested in the sessions than the people. The most value I receive is from individual conversations with other attendees. I meet new partners, new friends, and new investors. And even with my introverted tendencies, I just enjoy the conversations and learn unexpected things. These interactions are far more challenging in a virtual environment. You can have breakout sessions in Zoom (and they help) but individual conversations are not easily possible. It’s just not the same trying to get to know someone through the chat window.
And the most intensive real estate instruction was usually one-on-one coaching. It’s much harder to brainstorm and mind map online. Even the Q&A portions of normal real estate instruction are challenging, especially with larger groups. And networking (beyond just meeting individuals) is really hard. It’s almost nonexistent. These drawbacks may reduce student engagement even while attendance is up. Is there some way to improve these aspects of real estate investment education in a virtual environment?
Maybe. Computer intelligence has come a long way. A computer can win Jeopardy and beat chess grandmasters. Recently there was a breakthrough and those at the forefront of the field believe a computer will soon pass the Turing Test (a computer responding to questions cannot be distinguished from a human). Are there ways that a computer can help with some of these challenges in REI education?
As an educator (and a student) of REI, I know that most of the questions from most of the students are common questions. But they need the answer when they ask and it needs to be tailored to their specific question, not a generic FAQ, or a referral to recorded lecture number. An REI instructor who can provide these sorts of answers, perhaps through an artificial intelligence (AI) engine, will dramatically increase their value to students and increase the engagement of their students. I’d buy that education; I wouldn’t have to sit through a long lecture to get the one answer I’m looking for.
Such an engine would also be a huge benefit in coaching. A student in real time could ask questions and get answers. A coach could later review the session and tweak the responses. A good AI could even provide some of the emotional support and encouragement that a coach provides. I would only recommend this in addition to live calls with the coach. But having an AI available to a student whenever they need it rather than in a weekly call could be transformative.
And what if a Zoom call would allow attendees to hover over one of the Brady Bunch windows and see a short bio of the person there? It could identify who you want to reach out to later and give you some context for the speaker, like when you join a group conversation at a conference break.
To take that a big step further, how many times have you been at a conference and met someone and they find out you are interested in, for example, investing in Maryland or buying self-storage? They respond, “I just met Sally Investor and she’s also interested in that. Let me introduce you.” It’s much harder to do that at a virtual conference. But an AI could mine the conversation and suggest introductions between individuals who should meet (and are willing to be matched). This is sort of an eHarmony for investors but could be a real win for investors attending virtual conferences.
I hope that more live events come back. There is something about the energy of the room, having lunch with people who are just as excited as you are, and having detailed conversations with others who share your interests that can’t be duplicated with technology. But adding an AI to virtual classes and online conferences could restore much of the value that has been lost during lockdowns and provide next generation improvements to REI education.