Your calendar shows an important appointment at 11 a.m. today. You are registered for an internal corporate webinar that will outline new procurement policies and procedures. For one hour, you are scheduled to be one of 100 learners around the enterprise in this webinar. Here’s what really happens:
Actual attendance: On average, only 40 to 60 percent of webinar registrations result in live attendance. Many participants make strategic or impromptu decisions to skip the live session and wait to partake of it asynchronously if streaming is available. Some skip it entirely.
Split attention: Participants are often less than fully engaged and split their attention due to boredom or competing business forces. Email is often open, documents are being read and a phone call or two might take place during the middle of a webinar.
Poor design: While there are many design options for webinars, ranging from open discussions to video conferencing and audience collaboration, many clone an all-too-familiar format: audio or video head shots doing a talk-through of a PowerPoint presentation. Designing a live session to increase interactivity is a great idea, but most webinars are poorly or under-designed, and learners are underwhelmed with the learning-to-time ratio.
According to our studies at the Masie Center, 44 percent of learning leaders indicated a significant increase in current and planned use of webinars.
From the corporate perspective, webinars provide a low-cost, no-travel, trackable and easy-to-deliver method to reach a distributed workforce. Organizations are drawn to webinars in these key areas:
Compliance requirements: When the key goal is to indicate employee exposure to content, the webinar is often the organization’s first choice.
Blended learning addition: Organizations often add a webinar as a post-event follow-up to either a face-to-face classroom or e-learning experience.
Corporate communications blasts: Webinars are increasingly leveraged as workforce exposure opportunities for senior executives, focused on changing strategy or extending corporate culture.
From classes to knowledge meetings: As webinar software increasingly provides video conferencing capacity for every desktop, we are tracking a growing number of organizations using the webinar as an interactive knowledge meeting — sometimes with as few as two people in a session — to provide drill-down and mentoring/coaching opportunities.
Here are employee complaints turned into redesign opportunities for better webinar use:
Why always an hour? Often, webinar length is defined before the content is selected. One hour is a simple and administratively easy length to select, yet most employees feel they may only get 10 to 15 minutes of content or value.
If going live, make it lively: Most webinar attendees are not asked to do any meaningful interaction during the webinar. Many are starting to use an official back channel on instant messenger or Twitter to make the webinar time more meaningful.
Compress and pre-deliver the content: I sit on a board of directors where we recently shifted our meetings to webinar format with all content pre-delivered in video or PDF format. When we go live on the webinar, it is all discussion with the assumption that we have each reviewed the content.
Design to new webinar software features: Many organizations only use one or two features on their webinar platforms. Work with your presenters and designers to build better skills and comfort with making webinars more focused and engaging.
I must admit that, as a frequent webinar presenter, I sometimes get bored and have even done my own multi-tasking while presenting. I realize webinars are often design-free. In other words, we do not have a clear behavioral model of how to best share knowledge and increase collaboration among participants.
It is time for us to take a fresh look at how we design webinars. They are here to stay, and growing with our changing workplaces and connected workforce. Let’s experiment, change designs and gather evidence about the impact of changing duration, media delivery and learner engagement. If not, the webinar can become a large and climate-damaging learning offering.
Elliott Masie is the chairman and chief learning officer for The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.