A webinar is a seminar that is held online. Webinars can be held using a variety of different software and tools. Participants and leaders can then connect over the Internet for training, conferencing, or collaboration on a project. While webinars can bring a group of people from distant parts of the world together in one place, there are some significant disadvantages to this type of technology as well.
There are a variety of different tools that can be used to host a webinar. The webinar host must have an Internet connection, telephone, and webinar software. Participants in a webinar will log on to a predetermined website and log into the webinar session. They may need to call in to the webinar by telephone as well, in order to hear the presenter. The webinar will then take place online with the presenter demonstrating his points on the web page, while the participants listen and watch. Some webinar programs will also allow the attendees to “raise their hands” by clicking a button that will notify the instructor, or they may be able to type their questions into a chat box. Some presenters also hold a verbal question-and-answer session via the conference call during or after the webinar.
One of the disadvantages of webinars is that the instructor is frequently little more than a voice on the other end of the phone line. The instructor cannot gauge the level of understanding among her participants because she cannot see their expressions, and the participants may lose some of the excitement about the subject when they cannot see the instructor’s face. Communication in webinars is usually very structured, and though the instructor may answer questions, the participants are not able to talk to one another to brainstorm or share thoughts. There is a level of synergy that can be found within a group who is interacting and sharing in person that is lost over the phone or online.
While a webinar can clearly communicate many technical subjects, this form of communication may come up short when it comes to other matters. A collaboration on the best marketing technique for a new product may lose much of its enthusiasm when the participants cannot all sample the product. A chemistry experiment can be clearly explained in a webinar, but it cannot be performed hands-on by the participants. Pictures and graphics cannot always convey the same information that can be gained from tactile exploration of a subject. Webinars severely limit the ability to practice and refine new skills together or to reinforce the subject with hands-on experience.
Though webinars can bring people together from across the globe, the participants in a webinar are often distracted by other activity in the office or home where they are located. The participants’ end of the phone line is often muted so that the background noises from several locations don’t disturb the class. The need for this practice, however, clearly demonstrates how common it is for a webinar participant to have to set down their phone and deal with a fellow colleague who has come to their desk with a question. In addition to face-to-face distractions, webinar participants are often writing and responding to emails as they receive them, with the webinar taking place in the background of their desktop.
Despite the above disadvantages of webinars, this means of communication should not be discounted entirely. Webinars are very effective for demonstrating the use of software or other computer applications. When the subject does not require any hands-on experiences for a full understanding of the matter, a webinar can reach participants that may otherwise be unable to participate in a seminar. As technology becomes more advanced, webinars will also be able to more easily overcome some of their current boundaries. For example, a webinar with video conferencing can overcome the limitations of not being able to see your instructor or audience. Webinars can also be effectively used to communicate the core knowledge for a subject, with face-to-face meetings providing a follow-up that allows for more interaction once the group has been brought up to speed on the matter. Despite the disadvantages, a webinar can be an effective learning tool when used in the right setting, and a solid understanding of some of the common pitfalls can help the instructor work harder to overcome them and provide a quality learning experience.