Anyone who has taken online courses through a college or university is likely to be very disappointed by the webinars commonly offered in corporate and professional development training. Even though new versions of webinars use software such as elluminate (http://www.elluminate.com/ /) , which allows synchronous audio, presentation media, and streaming video, the experience often leaves a feeling that something was missing.
So, how can webinars be made more effective?
The answer lies in learning strategies.
All too often the assumption is made that if individuals can come together in a virtual space, they'll get as much from the experience as being in the same room together. However, just as meetings can be unproductive, and classrooms boring, a virtual meeting can fall flat. Weak webinars are doubly frustrating because they implicitly communicate a negative message about learning and information technologies. Such a message is doubly ironic in a time of iPhones and ubiquitous wifi, incessant video and text-messaging.
Here are a few ways to strengthen a weak webinar:
Capture the learner's attention at the beginning. Be catchy. Connect with your audience. Engage their emotions, pique their curiosity, appeal to their sense of self and community. By doing so, you'll be creating conditions of learning (Gagne), and making it more likely that they will actually follow through and watch the entire webinar.
Build a cognitive framework at the beginning. Be sure to list learning objectives and outcomes. By doing so, you're helping the learner develop schema, which can be thought of as file cabinets in working memory.
A recent article on cognitive architectures and mobile learning describes some of the processes at work in an effective elearning or mobile learning course.
Encourage interaction. The sage on the stage exudes authority. Although it is a good idea to establish credibility with your program (for example, the American Management Association (http://www.amanet.org/ ) touts management luminaries and gurus such as Peter Drucker in its online seminars, offered with a Corpedia.com learning management system), if your learners simply sit and passively watch, their recall is likely to be close to nil. Get them involved. Ask them to type in questions, use voice-over chat, videocast their images from webcams. Encouraging interaction will create conditions of learning.
Make it real: connect to audience experience.
The American Marketing Association (http://www.marketingpower.com/ )
offers webcasts in topics that are designed to appeal to its members. With webinars (both live and recorded) in branding, B2B, direct marketing, Internet marketing, market research, marketing return on investment, marketing strategy, and more, the members are likely to find something they can relate to, and which will help them. Without an opportunity to further the connection, and to respond to questions or ideas that ask the individuals to problem-solve for their own particular needs, the audience members are likely to be bored.
Show me the money: reward the learners. Some learners are happy with the emotional "reward" that comes with interaction. It's sufficient emotional affirmation and it satisfies their need for affiliation. Other learners are happy to be able to take a test or a questionnaire that "rewards" them by showing them how much knowledge they've gained. Still other learners are motivated by certificates and other ways to show they have achieved a level of professional expertise. A good example is the exam to become a Professional Certified Marketer. Ostensibly, one can take webinars, which will help an individual prepare to take the exam, which is offered through the American Marketing Association ($100 to register, $435 to take the test / discounts available for members).
Unfortunately, though, most webinars do not establish a clear pathway between their courses and a certificate, college credit-eligible course, or degree.
Repurpose with a purpose. If you're repurposing old videos from the 60s and 70s, keep in mind that the technology, clothing, and hair styles have changed dramatically. You'll need to remember that the anachronistic elements are potentially a huge distraction from the actual message. So, if you're repurposing old video or media assets, be sure to do so with a clear purpose in mind. Repeat the outcomes, the categories of knowledge, the key points, and the desired outcomes. Keep the learner on track. Continue to point to the reason for the presentation or topic.
Respect culture and language. Your webinar may appeal to a very narrow audience, and yet you may need to show it to people from diverse cultures, languages, and geographical regions. Be sure to incorporate the cultural assistance you'll need. Create a mediated space by including bilingual cues and guides, links to helpful dictionary or encyclopedia entries, and explanatory sidebars.
A very useful article that addresses the issues is one on bilingual education located here:
A video that deals with motivation and cultural difference can be found here:
For corporations, professional associations, and organizations with a large inventory of stored "webinar events," the opportunity to strengthen them and expand their reach and impact should be cause for celebration. The "Webinar Weakness" can be overcome by using effective learning strategies.
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