Feeling part of a virtual group – the webinar experience.

For today’s slice of blog activity I thought I’d share my recent experience of attending a webinar. When I say attending, what I mean of course is dialing in, or more precisely, logging on.

In case you are not up to speed with the whole webinar phenomenon this is a seminar or workshop that you do on line with other people. So you have to imagine that there are a whole load of other people around the country (or in this particular case, the world) sat in front of their computers with headphones on listening to Bob (let’s call him Bob, I’ve forgotten his actual name) talking.



This particular webinar was about a model of strategic planning that I wanted to know more about, I know, not everyone’s idea of a fun but I can get quite excited about it!

Strategic planning aside what I really wanted to reflect upon was the whole webinar experience. It’s the first time I’ve been part of a webinar, although have been part of many dial in, conference phone calls in my time.

It was a bit of strange to begin with, as I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I had my PDF of the workbook to go with the course which we were asked to turn to at certain moments, and for the most part we were listening to Bob talk through a slide show. Bob was also joined by Derick (also not his real name) and they did a bit of a “you to me, to you, to me, to you….” kind of act. There was a bit of a ‘presenter plus side kick’ feel rather than two people co-presenting exactly. The slide show related to the work book which has blanks to fill in with answers from the slides, although flipping between the two was a little tricky.

What was interesting is that I did feel like I was in a seminar of some kind. I was aware that there were others even though I had no interaction with them. The only time I was really aware of them was when Bob asked us to vote several times on questions he had asked us and the results of the poll were displayed on screen so we could all see what people thought. I could not see these people (and had no idea whether there were 10 or 50 of them), yet I sort of felt their presence.

There was also a Q&A (question and answer session) at the end and the occasional question posed during the webinar. Any voting or question asking was done by participants typing, and the presenters reading them out, there was no verbal input from any of us.

So what made me feel like I was there, part of a group all learning together?

I think the answer is mostly the way the speakers were talking. They addressed us as a group, and asked questions to us as a group. Any patter or jokes or asides that were added in (a bit about the weather in the US – it sounds much colder over there by the way!) sounded like they were working with a group.

There were also enough questions (the voting) and the Q&A at the end to feel like there was interaction, although this was participant to presenter rather than between participants.

Interaction is such a key part of learning, it was really interesting to see how this was pulled off with a group of people you can’t see.

The interaction, limited as it was, and rather one way, and the way the speakers spoke were in fact vital aspects of the webinar. I imagined myself listening to a learn Japanese audio book and realised that I would not have been nearly as engaged (although I actually quite interested in the idea of learning Japanese!).

Even the illusion of interaction seems important to making such an on line learning experience work.

The downside was while there was some interaction between the speakers and the participants, there was no interaction between the participants themselves. I am unsure if this is because of the type of webinar, or if this is common but for me would have made the whole thing a gold star rather than a silver one.

Of course a webinar is not the same as a real seminar or meeting or workshop, it is a best fit substitute. But the way people learning together or working together in a group interact is a major part of a workshop. It is a shared group experience and while I thoroughly enjoyed the webinar, it did feel like that element of it left rather a large hole.

I am going to investigate more webinars and see how they compare. Just like any other workshop, meeting or seminar there will be different styles and different presenters and some will be better than others. Webinars can also be one aspect of virtual facilitation, which  is something that I have mentioned before and one day will write a separate blog post about………


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