Educational webinars are quite different from face-to-face lectures.
When we think of a traditional lecture in a classroom several elements come to our mind, like a lecturer, a board of some sort, some desks and chairs.
Now, if we take the physical objects (including the room) out of the equation we still have the two most important things for education to happen, the teacher and the students.
Education is anywhere someone with the right knowledge and competences is able to present this knowledge in front of someone with the willingness to listen and learn.
And this is why educational webinars are one of the best tools available to educators.
They give them the opportunity to focus on teaching without being bounded by practical considerations like how many people the room can hold or who is able to attend the lecture or not.
What are webinars
To put it simply, a webinar is a web seminar – a video conference of some sort – where the presenter, or host, is able to interact live with participants from geographically distant locations.
The technology allows everybody to see and talk to each other via web cameras and microphones (either built-in or external), even though it usually the host who has control over who among the participants can speak (he or she can switch everybody’s mic on or off).
Depending on the conferencing service used, the participants might have to download a software or an app to join, or just click on a link and watch the presentation directly on their web browser.
Once they are in the “conference room” then, they will have the possibility to interact with the presenter, ask questions, send comments in the chat box, to the entire group or a specific person.
Why are educational webinars great for educators
Webinars are extremely easy to learn or set up.
On the technical side, they make it possible for educators to share any sort of media from their computers, including videos, slides or pictures.
On a more social level, they offer a window in which people from all over the country, or even the world, can connect and have a communal learning experience.
It is very likely that you will meet people from places you have never heard of in a webinar, and this fact alone will definitely make it more enriching.
Advantages of educational webinars
The main advantage of educational webinars is their flexibility and effectiveness.
Teachers can very easily find the right platform that can accomodate their needs (some are even free), while students don’t need to pay for transportation or waste any time commuting.
To do a webinar a teacher only needs to plan the activities, find a date and then invite the participants to register online – which is way easier than scheduling a face to face lecture.
The number of people who can attend varies but it can go from a small group to thousands of people.
A great plus-side is also the possibility to watch the webinar after it has taken place since pretty much all of them can be recorded and uploaded.
It seems that technology doesn’t affect the learning experience since students, tutors, and lecturers frequently report that they are satisfied with or enjoyed participating in webinar-based learning environments (Cornelius & Gordon, 2013; Gegenfurtner et al., 2018; Kear et al., 2012; Wang & Hsu, 2008).
Ultimately, it can be argued that webinars are even more effective than face to face classroom instruction – at least for higher education – as this study concluded.
Practical considerations on educational webinars
In order to have an engaging and successful educational webinar everyone involved has to have a stable connection.
The hosting platform is a very important element too.
Some of them offer different possibilities like dividing the participants in groups (private rooms) or sharing the screen of a single application (as opposed to the entire screen with all your windows and apps).
Provided that a good teacher can easily use any tool to teach any concept, there are some ways in which technology can make his or her job much easier.
For example, to make the students actively participate in the presentation a teacher could create polls or use the chat box for Q&A activities.
One thing to keep in mind is that, due to the diverse nature of attendees in many webinars, there could be some cultural differences.
In practical terms this means that some students might not be ok showing their faces, while others might have reservations with the material being presented.
In planning the activities, a teacher has to consider the composition of his or her audience, the technology available and how to use this technology to deliver a learning experience that is enjoyable for everyone.
What we have just said leads us to a negative aspect of webinars, that of engagement and participation.
On one hand, the diversity of students could make it particularly hard for the instructor to find activities that are suited for everybody.
On the other, participants might have trouble paying attention due to environmental distractions, like noisy roommates or family members, or could find it easy to do something else on their computers while the webinar is going on – since many can participate anonymously there is no accountability for distractions or lack of interest.
In conclusion, despite the technical issues and the possible lack of participation, educational webinars are still an amazing tool for educators.
Here are some useful resources for webinar services and tips:
- 13+ tips for running more engaging webinars
- How to host an engaging webinar
- Best Practices for teaching and presenting in a webinar