Webinars are a popular tool in which to train employees quickly. They utilize existing video conference software to help train large groups of employees. They are powerful tools but are they the best way to train employees?
Even if you’ve never formally enrolled in a webinar, you may be already familiar with the tools as they are often the same ones used in video conferencing. Tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Adobe Connect are just a few of them. However while the tools remain the same, it’s just the content and the purpose behind them that’s different.
All learning technologies have their strengths and weaknesses. Webinars are no different. Knowing as much as you can will help you to decide it they fit the needs of your organization.
One of the biggest strengths of webinars is their versatility as a synchronous learning tool. They have the ability to present information and communicate with large groups of employees simultaneously in a live, interactive environment. Employees have the ability to ask questions to the presenter and they can answer them during a break from the content. Depending upon the software used, the presenter can either be heard and/or be seen. In addition, almost all webinar software has the ability for the presenter to share their screen. This is especially helpful if the presenter has a PowerPoint presentation that they can discuss during the time of the webinar.
In addition to Powerpoint, presenters can also display and discuss any software that they can run on their computer. For a walkthrough of software, this can’t be beat. The presenter can also give any viewer the ability to have their screen displayed during the session. If a viewer has a question about the step they need to take, they can be walked through by the presenter and clarify any concepts as the rest of the viewers watch.
Recent advances in mobile technology allow viewers to attend webinars even if they don’t have access to a desktop or laptop computer. GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Adobe Connect and support iPhone and iPad, as well as Android tablets or smartphones. This allows webinars to reach a greater potential audience.
While webinars certainly have a lot of strengths, there are situations that exist in which they might not be an ideal tool.
The main strength of webinars (watching live) can be a weakness if a large portion of the workforce isn’t able to attend. Almost all webinar software allows you to record them so that they can be played back at a later date and time. However, doing so loses the most important aspect — live interaction. This changes the webinar from a synchronous (live) to asynchronous (recorded) experience. As soon as any interactivity is gone, you’re simply watching a presentation and employee engagement will surely drop.
The answer to this is to hold multiple live sessions to accommodate the work schedule of all employees. However, doing so is cost prohibitive as the time of the presenter is going to be required several times.
With costs needing to be justified, a key question to any webinar (live or recorded) is “Did the employees learn anything?” Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee this as there is no way for webinars to track knowledge retention, capability, and performance and have it reported to a learning management system (LMS). Without accurate knowledge checks and a way to ensure competency, an organization can never truly know how well the webinar performed.
Furthermore, a webinar does not ensure that the learner is actually paying attention. With the amount of distractions around at any given time, both the presenter and the content need to be exceptional in order to capture and keep learner attention for the entire duration of the presentation.
As learners are required only to watch the webinar and not engage with it (participation with the presenter is optional), their engagement with the content goes down. Because both attention and engagement is minimized, an employee’s ability to learn the content is also at risk. A training manager may never get to know this though as success in webinars isn’t measurable.
A webinar is primarily a communication tool and a learning aid but it is not a truly viable training delivery tool. If webinars are used for training purposes, they shouldn’t be the only instrument as there is no way for it to ensure employee competency. They should be supplementary to existing, measurable online training. Doing so give employees the tools they need to do the job right and managers the reassurance that the training is effective.