Webinars and web conferences are powerful delivery formats for employee training programs. These formats and their associated tools enable the “live online learning” trend that continues to transform instructor-led delivery, allowing trainers to reach learners in many locations at the same time.
Webinars and web conferences are being used more frequently because they are convenient for participants and instructors, cut down on unproductive travel time, and significantly reduce travel expenses. Moreover, learners continue to reap the benefits of live training sessions long after they end by viewing on-demand, recorded versions of the session.
With all the benefits of live online learning and the power of webinar and web conference tools, it’s a good bet that if you are not already using these formats for your training events, you will be soon.
It’s a common mistake to regard “web conferences” and “webinars” as interchangeable. The first step for getting the most out of these tools is to understand the important differences so you can better match the capabilities of each format to your specific training requirements.
This post introduces web conferences and webinars and compares features and capabilities important for workforce training. To help you understand how each tool is used, the post contrasts these online tools with their face-to-face counterparts. The information provided will help you determine which format is right for your circumstances and needs.
Web conferences are easily understood because they are simply online versions of the face-to-face business meetings held every day. Let’s review the key elements of a face-to-face meeting and then compare them to the features of a web conference.
In a face-to-face meeting, the host invites attendees via email to a designated conference room, usually designed for 5-25 people. To encourage collaboration, attendees are seated around a table so each person can see and hear all other participants. Often the host will share a PowerPoint if the room is equipped with a display or projector. Most meeting rooms also have a whiteboard that is convenient to the table so that the host and participants can easily illustrate rough concepts and ideas.
Okay, so let's back up and walk through the same description, except this time we will assume the meeting is a web conference. A web conference host invites attendees via a URL sent in an email to an online meeting “room,” often limited to 25 attendees depending on account settings. To encourage collaboration, attendees use conference audio and a webcam, which allows each person to see and hear all other participants. Often the host will share a Powerpoint using a built-in screen-share feature. The web conference software provides a whiteboard and screen-share annotation feature so that the host and participants can easily illustrate rough concepts and ideas.
I think you will agree that the similarities between a face-to-face meeting and a web conference are clear. To recap, web conferences are designed for small groups where the goal is collaboration and interactive communication. This makes them ideal for training courses that require frequent interaction and demonstration. Advanced web conference features like “breakout rooms” allow trainers to go a step further to simulate tables in a physical training room where groups discuss and collaborate on class exercises.
Web conferences share one additional similarity to face-to-face meetings: as the number of participants grow, collaboration becomes more challenging. If you need to train many learners at once, a web conference may become difficult to manage. Unfortunately, the same features that fostered collaboration with small groups may become a distraction for large meetings and training classes. Broadcasting live training to a large group creates additional requirements like advanced host control, attendee tracking, and feedback moderation. These additional requirements suggest the consideration of webinars for your meeting or training session.
Join me in part II, where I will explain how webinars differ from web conferences. Webinars offer unique capabilities important for corporate learning that substitute for, or extend Learning Management System functionality.