When Virtual Learning Is Better Than Face To Face
By Editor

Posted May 02, 2012

In the past few weeks I have attended a number of webinars. Some have been offers of free information put on by companies using webinars as a way to reach out to potential customers. Others have been set up by communities of practice to discuss or develop an area of common interest. The question I am left with is: Why, oh WHY are these webinars so boring?

In theory, a well run webinar is an ideal way to give your participants a lot of good ideas in a short period of time. The plethora of web conferencing tools, many of which are free for small groups, means that more and more people are setting themselves up as experts in their field, inviting guest speakers and pushing out free information. But the reality is that almost every webinar I have attended is limited to someone talking to a set of slides. Sometimes there is video of the speaker and this is interesting for the first couple of minutes, but they are usually distracted by their computer screen. The participants are silent for 90% of the time except for a very small chat window where messages fly by in small type that neither I nor the moderator can keep up with. It doesn’t have to be this way!

This is all very well when I am getting something for free and I make use of my time by multi-tasking. But when it comes to online meetings, training sessions and webinars that are not lightly-veiled marketing ploys, we should expect better. Several colleagues have talked with me about transferring their rich content and highly participatory workshops to an online environment. A common assumption seems to be that they need to adapt their interactive agenda into a one-way presentation interspersed with mini polls and tweet-length chat comments. They seem ready to give up on participant engagement and interaction. And yet, with attention and skill, virtual webinars can be as richly interactive as any workshop.

As facilitators we know how to design group exercises and ask questions to engage our participants and create a collaborative learning environment. With Post-it Notes™, flip charts and sticky dots we brainstorm ideas, explore issues and options, prioritize and evaluate solutions, and develop action plans. Just because a webinar is online doesn’t mean we need to give up this kind of interaction – we just need to seek out the tools that will allow us to engage our online participants.

I’ll be posting some tips on running effective webinars shortly, and encourage you to share yours here. Webinars are becoming common, let’s not let them be commonplace!

Posted by Editor