This article was originally published in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Technology.

Definition and Overview

By definition, a ‘webinar’ is a seminar that occurs via the internet – the ‘web’. Interactive webinars for learning provide a venue for content delivery, as well as presenter and audience verbal and visual interaction through discussion and use of webinar features. If intentionally designed and developed using instructional design best practices, interactive webinars used for learning purposes can be a highly effective and cost-efficient form of training.

This entry provides an overview of webinar features for audience members and presenters, a description of the affordances and constraints of this media form, and recommended strategies for the design and delivery of effective interactive webinars for learning.

Introduction

Interactive webinars are typically provided in an SAAS (software as a service) format, and can be open source, no charge, or proprietary, fee-based. Interactive webinars are delivered ‘live’ through the use of VoIP or telephony coupled with visual computer-supported delivery.

The visual component of an interactive webinar can include, for example, power point, YouTube, Captivate demonstrations, embedded URLs, and/or live streaming of the presenter’s face. The interaction component of a webinar is supported through a number of webinar features.

Interactive Webinar Features for the Audience

Webinar interaction fosters audience engagement with the content, accountability, and information processing and problem-solving.

Most SAAS webinar platforms provide a number of features supporting and/or facilitating interaction, and the number, type and quantity of features typically depend on the SAAS being used, but there are typical features, including:

Text Chat/Q&A: Text chat enables communication among audience members or between presenter and audience. Text chat can be public (all participants can see text) or private (only the presenter or designated participant(s) can see text). This feature is used to invite and respond to questions, where the presenter provides participant feedback that furthers content understanding. If participants are asked to provide their response in the text chat feature, they can immediately see the responses of others (if that feature is enabled), supporting feedback, discussion and accountability.

Polls, Surveys and Quizzes: Typically in advance of the interactive webinar presentation, presenters develop polling questions, brief surveys and quizzes to support participant information acquisition and understanding These features, visible to all, or to the instructor only, enable yes/no, true/false, and multiple choice (with one or several choices allowed).

White Board and Drawing Tools: These tools support audience member engagement and autonomy, and can be creatively used to drive home information, and to support Q&A, audience quizzing, and anonymous interaction. When enabled, audience members choose a type of drawing tool and through click-and-hold on their cursor, can ‘write’ on the portrayed screen ‘white board’ that is visible to all. The white board can be a slide with text on it and identified places on which the drawing tool can be applied, or it can be a blank screen that supports writing.

Many webinar provisions also offer augmented feature capability at a higher fee. Higher-end features revolve around the use of ‘break-out’ rooms. Just as is the case with a face-to-face instructional interaction, where participants are asked to work in smaller groups to process information, problem-solving, etc., ‘break-out rooms’ move a sub-set of the audience members to a separate space to engage in small group discussions and information processing. Typically a facilitator is provided in advance for each of these rooms to manage webinar functionality and support audience member group interaction. At the end of this choreographed time, members can be repositioned together again in the ‘main room’.

Affordances and Constraints of the Interactive Webinar

Every form of media that is delivered for learning purposes has its affordances and constraints, which must be addressed to maximize the learning outcome(s). Below are provided a brief list of the major benefits and obstacles inherent in interactive webinars.

Affordances/Benefits Constraints/Obstacles
Presenter and/or audience members do not have to travel to far-flung locations to deliver or receive training, providing significant cost savings to the individual and/or organization. Interactive webinar services and computer-related capabilities can change frequently. Computer-based capacity & capabilities that work well technology today might be unworkable tomorrow.
Groups and individuals can attend these sessions in their normal working environment, eliminating time off task through this on-campus training provision. Technology can be unpredictable: servers go down, SAAS service can go down, and internet service can be disrupted. A ‘Plan B’ must be prepared in advance to address disruptions.
Presenter preparation time for interactive webinar delivery is different in nature from that of a face-to-face class, but likely will require the same amount of pre-delivery preparation. Interactive webinars often require a presenter and a second individual who oversees the technological end of webinar delivery, which can translate into greater training cost.
Diminished learning occurs if audience capacity is greater than 20-25 individuals.
The sense of connectedness between fellow participants and presenter is severely diminished if webinar features are not appropriately used.

The Presenter’s Use of Interactive Webinar Features

The presenter/facilitator also has a series of capabilities at his/her disposal to support webinar interaction. These include:

  • Invitation Tools: Presenters use this feature to invite audience members to join in advance of the webinar. The invite includes all access information required to connect with the webinar and VoIP or telephony.

  • Screen Sharing: The presenter can hand over the screen presentation capabilities to any identified other audience member. In this way, presenters from different parts of the country or world other can both present sections of the webinar.

  • Observation of Involvement: This advanced feature informs presenters of participant disengagement, enabling presenters to specifically draw those uninvolved back into conversation, supporting learner accountability.

  • Live Visuals of Presenter & Audience Members: Some SAAS webinars provide the capability to engage visually with others in the interactive webinar. Webcams are used to project the person’s image to others, although there is typically a limit to the number of individual images that can be projected simultaneously.

  • Ability to Record Meetings: Webinars, with all verbal and visual interactions, can be recorded for those not attending the webinar to watch later. Because there is no ability to interact with a recorded meeting, however, this is a less-than-ideal feature in terms of facilitating learning.

Interactive Webinars for Learning Purposes

As with any other type of media delivery system, the use of interactive webinars alone, without deliberate instructional design using evidence-based theories, models and strategies, will fail to achieve learning outcomes. This last section provides a discussion using one such model, Keller’s ARCS model of instructional motivation, as a framework to detail suggested strategies to address ARCS elements.

Attention

To capture and retain audience attention, consider including:

  1. Surprise and variability through an engaging, character-laden story that is relevant to audience member experience and to the instruction being provided. Initiate the story at the beginning that, at a critical juncture in the story, stops. Complete the story at the end, portraying the resolution in a favorable or unfavorable manner, depending on the point(s) being made.
  2. Present on-screen visuals in unexpected ways.
  3. Provide a relevant, challenging, fun, and/or humorous interaction every 1-1.5 minutes with the participant, using a variety of features and approaches over the course of the webinar.
  4. Minimize explanations when answering audience questions. Long explanations without frequent audience interaction will result in loss of audience attention.
  5. Ensure that the webinar lasts no more than 1-1.25 hours. Attention and connection with audience members is lost with longer delivery times.
Relevance

Ensure that the instruction is relevant through:

  1. Understanding of the target audience requirements prior to the design/ development of webinar and integrate these considerations through early access of audience prior knowledge and through a relevant storyline.
  2. Providing images and information that will resonate with the target audience, including pictures, objects, sounds, introductions, conclusions and appearance of your webinar interface.
Confidence

Confidence, or learner self-efficacy, is fostered through provision of:

  1. Audience practice of webinar tools prior to inception of instruction.
  2. Frequent, varied interaction with the content and each other, coupled with immediate corrective feedback and positive, supportive comments by presenter.
Satisfaction

Audience members must be satisfied with what they are getting instructionally both during and after an interactive webinar for learning.

  1. Audience satisfaction occurs during the webinar when frequent, specific feedback with explanations is delivered by the presenter, portraying what is correct, as well as what is incorrect.
  2. Post-webinar satisfaction comes in the form of individual presenter contact (through email, etc.) and subsequent on-the-job demonstration of skill acquisition.

Further Readings

Clark, R.C., and Lyons, C. (2004). Graphics for learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Clay, C. (2012). Great webinars: create interactive learning that is captivating, informative and fun. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Driscoll, M, & Carliner, S. (2005). Advanced web-based training strategies. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keller, J.M. (2010). Motivational design for learning and performance. New York: Springer.

Mayer, R.E. (Ed.) (2005). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_conferencing for updated listing of webinar service providers.