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Acton University (AU) began in 2005 as a modest conference, hosting fewer than 100 participants in its inaugural year. Each year since, the Acton Institute has focused on growing the conference’s footprint and reaching new audiences around the world. By 2019, AU was established as a four-day, world-class conference that welcomed about 1,000 individuals from more than 80 countries.

In the months leading up to AU 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel and required Acton to cancel its in-person conference. In a matter of months, the Acton Institute pivoted to hosting Acton University fully online. The new digital conference retained its world-class speakers and panels but made these amazing resources available to participants from the comfort of their own homes.

The continued challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic forced Acton to host AU online again this year. Holding the conference digitally for a second consecutive year allowed Acton to improve the experience for participants and spread its message to several thousand more people than are able to attend AU in person.

Acton also hosted a small group of participants in its headquarters for a unique “hybrid” AU experience. These guests watched the panels and lectures digitally but were able to meet, discuss and socialize with their in-person peers. This experiment was a success and will provide a model for other hybrid Acton events in the future.

Both hybrid and fully digital AU participants provided positive and excellent feedback about this year’s event. Data showed that over 3,300 participants registered from 86 countries and over 95% rated the conference as “good” or “excellent.”

Like last year’s conference, AU Online 2021 increased the conference’s accessibility and allowed many guests to participate who would not have been able to attend the event in person. Participants from all over the world commented on the quality of the speakers and lectures, and expressed gratitude about their ability to attend AU this year.

In the words of one conference participant:

“This is my third year of AU participation, and I do not have enough words to express the impact of this experience on my life, the way I envision what a virtuous society should be and how well-equipped I feel to share these thoughts and visions with others in my community.”

Although the last year has taught that virtual events cannot fully replace in-person experiences, hosting Acton University Online for two years showed that a digital conference is a great tool for reaching new people and growing Acton’s influence with participants around the world.

The Acton Institute is happy to announce that next year’s Acton University will feature an in-person conference in conjunction with a digital experience for guests not able to travel to Grand Rapids.

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Thomas Richter is a member of the Acton Institute’s 2021 Emerging Leaders class. He is junior at the University of Notre Dame pursuing a double major in political science and philosophy. Thomas is originally from Columbus, Ohio, and is interested in working in business consulting before eventually attending law school. He enjoys reading, running, and playing golf in his free time.