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Learning from Webinars


Extract from article published in “Typeface”, the journal of the British Association of Psychological Type, May 2012, Vol. 23, No. 2.


Growth of Webinars
I’ve chosen to focus on webinars, rather than e-learning in general, because webinars seem to be flavour of the month – hardly a day passes without an invitation to participate in a webinar appearing in my inbox.  A lot of these are clearly being used as “lead generators” by the senders, and are of questionable quality and value.  This is a pity, as it undermines the perceived value of webinars as a learning medium, and creates a barrier in the minds of potential participants which trainers have to overcome.  

The CIPD’s Survey Report “Focus on e-learning” of June 2011, found that webinars were used by 21% of organisations “frequently or regularly” and by 29% “occasionally”.  Furthermore the report found that e-learning is growing as a proportion of training time, and it can be assumed that use of webinars will grow as part of this trend.  However, people often sign up for e-learning but do not complete it and 77% of employers believe it is not a substitute for face to face or classroom learning.

The CIPD report does not cover the reasons why webinars are growing in frequency, but they are likely to include:

• Costs – 65% of employers in the survey said e-learning was “excellent” or “good” value for money
• Growth in bite-sized learning  - webinars well suited to a “little and often” approach
• Growth in use of mobile technology and smartphone apps making webinars more accessible
• Webinars, as half-way house between solitary e-learning and a classroom,  overcome some of the shortcomings of e-learning, by offering some interaction with a trainer and other participants, while replicating other features of classroom training, such as a specific time in the diary to do it
• Webinars are also being used more regularly for team meetings and one-way communication events

Webinar design
How can we design webinars to make them at least equal to or better than class room training?

As with all training interventions, the starting point is what is the objective of the training eg is it to impart knowledge, develop skills and behaviours, or change attitudes. 


1. Make sure the webinar format will achieve the learning objectives – imparting knowledge and changing attitudes may be easier to achieve through a webinar than developing practical skills.
2. Design into the webinar appropriate strategies to achieve the objective – in most cases, this will be a combination of cognitive methods (eg use of models, mnemonics, memory aids, analogies, goal-setting) and behavioural approaches (eg discussion, modelling others, reinforcement through practice, building self-efficacy through feedback).
3. Consider the needs of the learners - build the design around all four stages of the learning cycle ie it needs to be participative with opportunities to consolidate and apply the learning.


Kolb’s Learning Cycle


The table below, based on the learning cycle, illustrates the potential to build behavioural learning strategies into a webinar.




Stage of learning cycle 



Opportunity to discuss own experiences and hear those of the other participants
Discussion of case studies
Opportunity to ask questions


Use of polls to check knowledge
Tutor asks questions and gives feedback
Tutor summarises and draws out learning 


Hand-outs/workbooks require participants to make notes of learning points and how the material can be applied to their situation
Participants are asked to share thoughts and ideas


Participants plan actions to take after the session
Participants set goals for themselves to implement the learning at work 


Compared with classroom training, a webinar offers similar potential to design in effective learning strategies. The critical missing element in a webinar is the opportunity for live skills practice (eg for skills such as interviewing or appraising others, negotiating, influencing), though there are probably ways to achieve this as an add-on to a webinar, such as by each delegate having a one-to-one practice session with the tutor via Skype.


Webinar delivery
How to make webinars work in practice

Assuming you can design appropriate content to meet the training outcomes, some critical success factors relating to the technology, tutor, learners and follow up are:

• Check participants’ previous experience of using remote technology (eg video-conferencing, telephone conference calls), as this will colour attitudes and willingness to participate.
• Ensure a positive experience with the technology the first time (ie no problems joining the conference, being able to hear), as this will impact willingness to use webinars again.
• Provide advice beforehand on technical requirements (eg using headphones, speakers, broadband speed)
• Have someone to manage the technology for you while you are presenting the content eg to mute/unmute people, pick up written questions
• Use the technology to build in polls to check learning eg multiple choice questions

• Practice with the technology beforehand
• Plan for regular interaction during the session (approx. every 7 minutes)
• Issue hand-outs, supporting documentation and any pre-webinar work in advance
• Issue reminder email the day before and ask learners to log in early
• Provide clear instructions on how to join the webinar and how to get support if needed

• Find ways to let participants know who else is attending eg their names, where they are based, who they work for
• Use the chat-room for icebreaker questions to create a sense of community
• Provide an overview at the beginning of the session about how to use the features:
o how to mute or unmute themselves,
o how they can submit written questions,
o how they can “put their hand up” if they have a question or comment.
• When participants want to respond to a question, tell them clearly who “has the microphone” at that point and make sure everyone who raised their hand gets the chance to speak

Follow up
• Make a recording of the webinar available
• Issue notes of discussions or copies of additional slides
• Solicit feedback for evaluation purposes
• Signpost additional resources eg reading, websites, assessments, quizzes
• Set up a social media group for the learners to continue to communicate with each other


Webinars can be designed to be as effective as classroom training for some (but not all) topics. They have several added value benefits over a face to face event, including:

• Easy to record and therefore make available again to participants and others who missed it
• Global reach gives the potential for cross cultural interaction and diverse perspectives
• Cheaper to deliver than classroom training, as no travel, venue or accommodation costs, (but not cheaper to design)
• Content can be modularised as a series of short sessions spread over several weeks, with chance to consolidate and apply before the next session

The main downsides of a webinar compared with classroom training are:

• Little opportunity for networking – no chats at coffee break
• Less opportunity for group work/brainstorming
• No opportunity to directly practice the skill

However, some of these shortcomings can be compensated for by innovative use of social media, such as using a chat-room during the webinar for brainstorming, and setting up groups via social media for on-going interaction.

In my view, webinars are potentially a great resource for delivering training and learning. But they need to be properly designed, just as a class-room based workshop would be, and although they may be cheaper for participants to attend, design and development is no cheaper than traditional classroom training.


Postscript on relevance to type
I haven’t found any material on how type preferences might influence reactions to the webinar format, and would be delighted if readers with experience or opinions in this area would like to contribute – if you email me with any thoughts, we will include these in a “readers’ reply” column next time, or please add your comments to the discussion I have posted in the BAPT group on Linkedin .

Here are a couple of my own thoughts:
1. One of the things I like about webinars is the ability to “put my hand up” when the tutor invites questions or comments. In a face to face event, it is usually the Es who answer first, as the Is don’t like to shout out in a group or compete with other people for attention. In the webinar, not being aware of who else might have their hands up, removes this intimidation. However, I wonder if extraverts find it frustrating to have to wait their turn to speak without knowing how many people have their hands up and how long they might have to wait?
2. Looking at cognitive processes, trainers should incorporate into the design opportunities for learners to use their extraverted functions where possible ie Se (experiencing), Ne (brainstorming), Te (systematising) and Fe (harmonising). Does anyone have any ideas about how this might be done?


CIPD Survey Report, June 2011 “Focus on E-Learning”,
Latham, G.P. (1989) Behavioural approaches to the training process in I.L. Goldstein (ed) Training and Development in Organisations
Howell, W.C. and Cooke, N.J. (1989) Training the Information Processor: A review of cognitive models in I.L. Goldstein (ed) Training and Development in Organisations
Goldstein, I.L. (1993) Training in Organisations
Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development
Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. (eds) (2007) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: designing and delivering e-learning