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Reach more learners through webinars

Allison MillerAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about the delivery of engaging learners, to equip them with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Today Allison teaches us how to reach more students through the use of web-based seminars, commonly known as webinars. Think you’ve heard it all? You might just be surprised.

A little about webinars

As internet connectivity improves across Australia, the opportunity to deliver training and assessment via a live web-based environment or a webinar greatly increases.

A webinar is like watching a YouTube video but with the added benefit of having a live presenter or facilitator and other participants that you can interact with. Webinars are delivered through webinar rooms which can have lots of interactive tools, such as:

  • whiteboards – so participants can brainstorm or debate ideas
  • text chat – so participants can simultaneously answer questions or offer information
  • polls and emoticons – so participants can virtually express how they are understanding the session
  • screen sharing – so presenters can share their desktop to give a virtual tour, and
  • web cam – so a presenter can either video stream themselves talking or deliver practical, hands on sessions demonstrating how to do something.

Webinar rooms also allow you to upload presentation slides, and record the session, so if learners miss a session or would like to revisit a session, they can view the recording. This also means that you can instantly create a learning resource which can be shared with others.

How might you use a webinar?

Webinars can be used to purely present information or for group activities, where participants use their own computers to access the training session. Alternatively, webinar rooms can be used in a hybrid approach, where a trainer is delivering the session in a workshop or classroom environment with students, and a few individual students join the session through the webinar room.

Webinar rooms can also be used for assessment such as viewing students in their workplaces through the web cam.  Or, a guest presenter can be beamed into a classroom environment.

Planning a webinar

As you can see webinars offer many great features and opportunities, however they do require careful planning to ensure that it is a successful experience for participants.

Planning starts with ensuring that the trainer is skilled in facilitating a webinar. Facilitating a webinar requires some rethinking about design and delivery of the virtual training to ensure that information delivery and activities are appropriate. It also means that the trainer needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to effectively use the webinar environment and its tools by having some practice sessions. Ideally, it is a good idea to have co-presenters in the first couple of sessions or with large groups, so they can help monitor participant activity or help deal with any issues.

Other planning considerations including scheduling or booking the webinar room just like you would book a classroom, so participants know where to go. Then contacting participants by email or a learning management system to provide them with instructions about the webinar room: such as:

  • having a headset with a microphone, and
  • entering the webinar room prior to the session starting so technical issues can be addressed, and to ensure participants can hear and speak before the session begins.

Lastly, ensure that you have some technical support before, during and after a webinar session to help troubleshoot any issues. This support can be offered through:

  • a link to online help information
  • having someone people can ring if there is a technical issue, and/or
  • providing a separate practice session prior to the beginning of a series of webinars so participants can ensure their webinar works on their computer and also get to know how to use some of the webinar’s features.

Facilitating the webinar

Webinar environments allow a facilitator to be as creative as they like in the delivery of their training. There are a few key things to remember, however, such as hitting the record button at the beginning of a session.

Other must haves include:

  • Welcoming participants with an introduction and a photo of the trainer so participants build a connection with him or her.
  • Explaining to the participants the different features of the webinar environment and how they can interact with them.
  • Incorporating virtual icebreakers so participants start to feel comfortable with their virtual colleagues.
  • Lots of interaction between the trainer and the participants through questions and activities.
  • Having a ‘Plan B’ if for some reason the webinar room is not available or you cannot load your slides or your web cam decides not to work.

Training online offers lots of opportunities for a wide range of students. Being an online student can feel very isolating, however, so always ensure you follow a webinar session by communicating with the participants either through email or your learning management system.  This follow-up communication will allow you to share the link to the session recording, and to ask for feedback about whether participants found the session useful.

And don’t forget your trainers!

Remember that your trainers need to feel confident enough to facilitate their students in an online environment. This means ensuring that they have been adequately trained to deliver via a webinar. But with a little thought and support you will find that webinars can be an effective way to deliver training and easily reach more learners.

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