Organising another webinar? Don’t mistake convenience for relevance

Organisations are usually looking more for efficiency than efficacy, because the first is easily demonstrated and the second is difficult to prove. As a result we have to live with plenty shortcuts. I believe often webinars are one of those shortcuts.

Time and again when I ask training organisers why they choose to use the webinar format, it comes down to a few factors only: it’s easier (than any other type of online learning), it’s cheaper (than any other type of delivery method), and it’s supposed to be motivational to be online together. I challenge each of these points.

Yet, when I share my frustrations about webinars, it seems many people dread webinars as much as I do. The main critique? Often so much effort (usually time related) for so little value.

I have attended many about e-learning because (1) I’m obviously interested in the topics and because (2) I’m on a quest to find one webinar that can convince me that this was indeed the best medium to do whatever it is that the organiser and/or the participants wanted to achieve. I’m also searching for a webinar that convinces me that without being there with all the other people at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to pick up the ‘learning’ on offer. Why – I keep asking myself – are we in this together?

Webinars consist almost always of a presentation by an expert. The audience is invited to post questions in the chat and perhaps ask a question in the Q&A that follows. Sometimes there are survey questions (always wonder what presenters want to achieve by those). Very few people connect with each other during webinars.

With such shallow learning objectives (or outcomes or goals), why would I be forced to do this at a set (usually inconvenient) time? Just so I can have the ‘feeling’ I’m listening to this person together with many other people? Really? I’d much rather watch the presentation in my own time, think about the content and post my question – if I have one – in a forum where I get feedback. The time lapse would at least allow for some deeper learning and perhaps some real engagement because there would be an opportunity to have a follow-up conversation with those who are interested.

And if I don’t have a question or I don’t want to engage, that’s fine too. After all, it’s just a presentation which doesn’t need a ‘togetherness’ to be valuable. I watch plenty of those online all the time. Why pretend that webinars offer more?

Being together in an online space at the same time doesn’t mean there is any cooperation, let alone collaboration. (Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce something; cooperation is the process of working together to the same end).

Have you experienced true collaboration in any webinar you have attended? Doing stuff, not only talking about stuff, and certainly not just listening to stuff together. In your webinar, did you solve problems together? Did you produce something?

Webinars aren’t a great tool for collaboration either unless the group is really small. And if the collaboration is around complex(-ish) problems (which they should be to offer valuable learning) we’re better off with asynchronous online learning anyway.

I wonder why we are often still stuck with a tool that seems so overrated. Or have I missed all the gems out there?

Do you recognise the 4 early warning signs of poor Moodle course design?
E-learning in the development sector should be grounded in social constructivism


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