First, let me say that when I say “webinar”, I am thinking broadly to things that might or might not include video (video-conference), views of slides (the typical webinar), and a teleseminar (typically audio only). I decided to write about this because I get asked about this type of learning experience often, and I find people have strong and varying opinions.
As a person who leads an organization that produces and sells these tools, you might think I have a one-sided view of this question. I hope that this shows that I don’t – but rather that I hope you come to see webinars as one important tool that you can use, when it is the best tool to use.
I’ve seen it all, as a participant/learner, consultant to organizations using these tools, and having lead well over 500 of these myself, so hopefully my perspective is useful.
Whether you are thinking about this personally, or for your organization, it’s true that we learn in lots of ways and there are lots of tools that can be a part of our overall learning strategy. All of these tools have pros and cons – and our job is to determine the situation we have in front of us, and which tool is the best one for that situation. Let’s explore where the webinar fits into that schema.
Concerns with the Webinar as a Learning Tool
I thought I would start here, because there are several – and they are important.
- There is less interaction than a workshop format.
- There are no (or very limited) chances to practice.
- It is easy for people to disengage or multi-task.
All of these things are true, and there are ways to reduce these negative impacts.
- The trainer/facilitator can design and deliver in a way that increases interaction – and create at least some more. This is not unlike how some trainers create more interaction in a workshop setting than others do.
- The webinar can be a part of a learning process where the practice follows (or the webinar is available when people really need the learning, so that they are more likely to practice on their own).
- The leader/supervisor can hold people accountable for the learning, not just attending, therefore reducing the amount of multi-tasking going on.
The other big concern I hear about webinars, especially those presented by people external to the organization, is that people are producing the webinar to sell things. The concern here is that there is way more pitch than content.
On this point, there is no doubt.
I have led webinars for this purpose, and so have many others. Of course, some facilitators are truly only selling from start to finish, and some are using the final couple of minutes of the event to make an offer. If you aren’t sure which type of facilitator you are getting, it is worth a test run before you put many people (and perhaps your reputation) on the line. As a basic rule of thumb, the more you pay for the webinar, the less likely it will be a simple sales presentation.
Advantages of the Webinar as a Learning Tool
Along with those concerns, there are some things that make webinars an amazing learning tool, including:
- Just in time – the event can be created in a shorter time, allowing for learning timed precisely.
- Expert availability – if purchasing webinars from others, you have access to world experts at the other end of a phone line or an internet connection.
- Economical – this is probably the most economical way to gain access to the top expertise, as well as there being no travel costs and overhead of nearly zero for the participant.
- Extremely focused – while most webinars run 60-75 minutes (which is already bite-sized compared to classroom training), there is no reason they can’t be even shorter and more focused, based on the learning need.
- Recordable, repeatable, and transferable – the learning can be just as valuable to a person listening later as listening live – and once the webinar takes place, it can be repurposed to print and other modes of learning delivery.
Hopefully this short article gives you a more balanced view of webinars as a tool for learning. They are not a panacea, nor are they the evil stepchildren of learning – they can serve a very useful place in an overall learning strategy for you and your team. I hope you will take a look at some of our offerings (both upcoming calls and recordings of past calls) here, and if you are looking for additional help and consulting (or the creation of specific webinars in your organization) please contact my team directly.