Webinars reproduce the structure and format of the formal training workshop in an online space. The sole positive distinction for participants is that they may now participate from anywhere. However, to ask questions or otherwise contribute requires one to be present at a specific time (synchronously). Recordings of webinars are usually made available, so in theory we may catch up after the event but lose the ability to connect to others… and seldom actually do. If there wasn’t time (or justification) when it happened, that is unlikely to change later.
Like the face-to-face workshops they emulate, webinars require us to stop work in order to learn, which we can seldom afford or justify. They are mostly transmissive, as the available tools (Webex, for example) do not facilitate conversation. By default, most facilitators will mute everyone in a conference to avoid an unintelligible cacophony of multiple squawking voices.
Despite the existence of a chat feature (a “back channel”) that could be used for dialogue, most of us bring online the etiquette of face-to-face events, where chatting during a presentation is frowned upon.
Yet, despite such limitations, two affordances of webinars represent a dramatic improvement over other learning technologies. First, they help to reduce the need for mission travel. Second, they allow us to display a slide deck, share a screen (making them a visual medium), or show participants (using their webcams).
Where, initially, teams tend to use webinars for one-way knowledge transmission, as they gain experience they may begin to use the same technology for less formal communication, such as rapid feedback and evaluation from the field or between stakeholders who cannot gather in the same place.
Photo: Empty (schnaars/flickr.com)