Re-Designing Webinars Recommendations/Findings:
The following recommendations are the result of work done with the help of 40+ Learning Consortium members. We want to thank them for their contributions and support throughout this project.
- The term “webinar” is highly misunderstood across most organizations and has come to mean everything from an hour-long “lunch and learn” to a 6-week, high-risk certification course.
- In a survey of over 300 organizations, some very telling metrics surfaced about webinars:
- +50% - 75/100% of Webinar Participants Multi-Task
- +50% - No Webinar Design Model (or not aware of one)
- +95% - Webinars are PPT Dominant
- +85% - No Measurement Strategy for Webinar Effectiveness*
*As a result, we produce POOR webinars and get little out of them!
- BUT!! 70% of these same organizations saw significant webinar growth and consider this medium to be potentially powerful if designed/delivered effectively.
Recommendations to make webinars work!:
- Distinguishing the 3 Types of Webinars*: It’s all about expectations and positioning! A HUGE part of the breakdown of the model lies in expectations and set-up.
- 3 types of webinars emerged with VERY different expectations and outcomes.
- Information Sharing: Typically 30 – 60 minutes in length and highly guided by an expert who has something to share with others. These are HIGHLY one-directional in design with little to no engagement strategy. The intent is to share information; there is little to no expectation beyond that.
- Brainstorming/Data Gathering: Typically 30-90 minutes in length with some type of facilitator or guide hosting the experience. These are intended to be highly interactive and have no formal outline beyond the topic(s) of discussion. The intent is to gather information as effectively and efficiently as possible.
- Instruction: Typically 60-120 minutes in length and guided by an instructor. These are often taught in one or more sessions (more on this shortly) and are intended to be as interactive as possible. The intent is to transfer knowledge and skills to help improve on-the-job performance.
*Recommendation: These distinctions are rarely communicated as effectively as they could be. Webinars have become a blur of all three types with unclear expectations and outcomes across the two key stakeholder groups involved: facilitators and participants. Clarifying these approaches from the beginning will go a long way in improving the effectiveness of webinars. Each type elicits a different outcome and a different level of engagement. None is better than another, but it is critical to be sure that everyone involved understands their role, the desired outcome, and the rules of engagement – right from the start!
- Making Instructional Webinars Work!*: The most requested type of webinar by Consortium members is instructional. Most are struggling with taking classroom-based learning and moving it to a virtual/webinar format. Clearly instructional webinars use a different approach and involve a whole host of characteristics that make them effective. One misperception is that webinars of this type can never be as effective as the face-to-face classroom. The reality is that many of the best practices members shared point to the complete opposite! If designed well, and with the right type of content, these virtual sessions can be even MORE effective than the classroom in helping drive effective performance and business results!
- Use the power of TIME. Learners won’t sit through 4-8 hour online webinars. Most research and best practices support keeping online learning to 60-120 minute sessions (at the most). This will allow classes to be taught over time in small increments and chunked into more effective and manageable sections, avoiding information overload and aiding application. This builds time in between sessions for learners to actually practice, apply, and expand their learning before the next session. It also allows for the learner to receive feedback and reinforcement from instructors, peers, or managers. Make this time between sessions intentional and meaningful. When done well, many students share that the time spent OUT of the webinar was the most meaningful.
- Making ENGAGEMENTS meaningful! Engagement comes in two forms: the ways in which facilitators use engagement strategies when they teach and how they use the engagement tools that come with most virtual technologies.
- Facilitator Skills. A two-dimensional screen is not a 3-dimensional classroom. Many of the skills instructors have come to rely on in class, either intentionally or unintentionally, are missing during virtual instruction. Without eye contact, it’s impossible to use common visual clues to check for understanding and engagement. In the virtual space, a few best practices to keep in mind are:
- Script interactions: The recommendation is to have a scripted interaction every 5-8 minutes.
- Don’t be afraid of silence: Participants need time to process and complete assignments. Giving timed “breaks” or work time will allow for internalization and application. Let this time stand alone!! DON’T TALK. Bring them back once the time is up.
- Use navigational speak and visual builds/staging to keep attention: The screen is the only visual, so help students navigate the content by verbally directing them around the screen. Stage layouts and content if the technology allows it, and use annotation to draw attention to content in a meaningful way.
- Use a producer or co-facilitator: Virtual instruction has a production component. The facilitator is juggling a lot of things besides the participants. A producer can help stage and launch many of the logistical components of the experience while the facilitator focuses on content and the participants. Producers do NOT have to be professional facilitators or subject matter experts. They are strictly there to help produce the event.
- Engagement Tools. Chat, polls, whiteboards, and breakout rooms of the virtual environment are the LCD projectors, hands raised, and blackboards of the traditional classroom. Just like any good instructor asks effective questions throughout a class to check for understanding and encourage participation, webinar facilitators have tools to do just that. To optimize these tools, we must understand the degree of transparency that each allows. Transparency is the degree to which other participants know who is actually answering or participating in any particular portion of the class. Low transparency is completely anonymous. High transparency lets everyone know who is participating. Medium transparency would only let everyone know if a group was answering, or would share the name of a participant in a smaller group or less threatening setting. Each virtual tool carries a degree of transparency. Most chats for instance show the name of the participant who responds, while polls often hide all participant information from the group. Using these tools based on their levels of transparency can help encourage and/or potentially discourage engagement. For instance, use low transparency tools early in the experience or when the questions are of high risk to help build confidence and ease the participants into the experience. Use high transparency later in the experience when there is a higher degree of trust, or during practice, exercise, or assessments when it’s important to know how each student is doing and who’s actually participating.
- Don’t think that all webinars have to be “Live”. Finally, although webinars are typically delivered synchronously, a HUGE advantage of webinar technology is that the content can often be recorded and consumed when participants have time. Clearly, there are drawbacks to asynchronous webinars and if the intent is to deliver highly engaging webinars that the student must participate in, watching a recording isn’t the answer. BUT, our findings were that many webinars, or at least portions of them, had little to do with live participation! They are merely information sharing sessions that could have easily been recorded and watched later. There are MANY advantages to considering this approach:
- Often the information is better consumed closer to when it’s needed. Rather than insisting on a time when everyone can be present, and therefore potentially moving the message further away from its intended impact, recording can allow a participant to listen right when the information is needed.
- It’s easier to respond to many of the webinar topics after there has been time to process or even try what’s been shared. A recording allows participants to listen, reflect, try, and then respond or ask questions in a much more timely and effective matter. Live events fall into the same trap that the classroom does in that they remove participants from the workflow and then send them back to try what they’ve learned later. Recordings are timelier.
- Recordings can be archived, edited, and used in many other ways. They can be added to a performance support tool as a job aid or reminder video. They can be edited down into small chunks and used as a part of an eLearning deliverable. They can also be archived on media servers and used as part of larger libraries.
- Multiple SMEs can be recorded separately and edited together into a more effective message.
- The delivery can be more scripted, polished, and rehearsed.
- Participants can fast-forward through parts that don’t pertain to them. Many of these technologies allow you to bookmark or even make them searchable via meta-tags. This makes the information more valuable and applicable.