This week I want to talk about two barriers we encounter with webinars and two strategies to overcome these barriers. I am working towards my Masters of Distance Education and there is a fascinating amount that has been learned in the last 150+ years about teaching and learning at a distance.
Webinars have a distinct advantage over historical distance education as they are synchronous or live events. But they do encounter some of the same barriers encountered by distance education. In this post, we’ll be discussing the two common barriers of disembodied learning participants and constrained communication channels that are encountered by both distance learning and E-learning.
DISEMBODIED LEARNING PARTICIPANTS
Peters (2010) discusses how “Non-verbal communication cannot contribute to learning. Relations between persons of flesh and blood are not possible” (p. 54) in distance education settings. The same barriers can be true of webinars as well.
Using webcams can help tear down this barrier, giving participants an opportunity to see at least the instructor’s face. Not all webinar tools support this feature. However, this is something to consider if yours does. We spend our lifetimes reading other’s facial expressions and body language. Webcams bring human faces back into the webinar learning experience.
Another tool that helps participants is chat. I have yet to find a webinar platform that doesn’t support chat. Encourage chats between the instructor and between participants to enable them to see each other as human beings, not as disembodied objects. Chat can build a temporary village creating a short term but vital community experience to an audience learning together at a distance.
CONSTRAINED COMMUNICATION CHANNELS
“Students in distance education and online learning are deprived of the experience of direct group communication” (Peters, 2010, pp. 54-55). This can also be an issue with webinars but does NOT have to be with careful planning.
Instructors should pose questions to the group throughout the webinar. Students can respond either verbally or through chat. My experience has been that more experienced webinar learners prefer chat. So I always give participants the option to respond either way.
Another commonly available feature that can encourage group communication is polls. Instructors can pose multiple choice questions or open ended questions to their participants. The separation in space can actually be an advantage here. Responding to webinar polls is not as threatening as in a physical class because your response is generally private.
Even though webinars can pose barriers to learning, with careful planning and understanding of the available features, these are barriers that can be easily overcome.
Microsoft. (2014). Demolition [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=demolition&ex=1#ai:MC900318294|
Peters, O. (2010). The revolutionary impact of distance education In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues: Vol. 5 (5th ed., pp. 43-56) [Adobe Digital Edition]. Retrieved from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg website: http://www.box.com/shared/ktx7ipccetotqrr11mct