Allow Webinar Learners to Plug In

(Microsoft, 2014)

It’s 10am on Thursday. Your learner’s email is backed up. They have 20 windows open in their task bar. They are in the middle of an instant message with a colleague. A helpful Outlook notification opens up letting them know that the training webinar they must attend just started. They click the link to join the training and then dive right back into instant messager.

How much learning do you think is actually going to happen during this training session?

This is not a new problem. The attrition rate for online students is higher than for counterparts at bricks-and-mortar institutions (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007; Kanuka, & Jugdev, 2006). Two contributing factors are a lack of community feeling and social presence (Angelino et al., 2007; Kanuka, & Jugdev, 2006). In other words, learners were not engaged.

So how can we as webinar designers increase engagement? Let them talk to each other! “Distance learners who collaborate with others experienced higher satisfaction and performed better than cyber-students who did not participate in peer-to-peer interactions (Althaus, 1997; Hiltz, 1993; Kember, Lai, Murphy, & Yuen, 1992; Pychyl et al., 1999)” (Wang, Newlin, & Tucker, 2001, p. 223). For those who feel that this peer-to-peer interaction can be distracting, yes, it can. But this is a distraction that the 255 million monthly active users of Twitter are well used to handling (

In the scenario at the beginning of this post, there is still a good probability the people are still going to answer messages during learning events. But shouldn’t webinar designers try to stack the odds more in our favor by using chat to help learners plug more fully into the learning engagement?


Angelino, L. M., Williams, F. K., & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to engage online students and reduce attrition rates. Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), 1-14. Retrieved from

Blackmon, S. J. (2012). Outcomes of chat and discussion board use in online learning: A research synthesis. Journal of Educators Online, 9(2). Retrieved from

Kanuka, H., & Jugdev, K. (2006). Distance education MBA students: An investigation into the use of an orientation course to address academic and social integration issues. Open Learning, 21(2), 153-166. doi:10.1080/02680510600715578

Microsoft. (2014). Plugs [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Wang, A. Y., Newlin, M. H., & Tucker, T. L. (2001). A discourse analysis of online classroom chats: Predictors of cyber-student performance. Teaching of Psychology, 28(3), 222-226. Retrieved from

Spring 2014 Blog Recap

(Microsoft, 2014)

“Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy – Philadephia!!” from the musical 1776 sums up my current weather situation. So it’s nice to look back to Pennsylvania’s two memorable weeks of spring by gazing at the picture of this lovely daisy. And, of course, we’ll look back at Spring 2014 blogs (more than 2 weeks worth!). I am taking a break from blogging to enjoy the rest of the summer. Thanks for reading! Talk to you again in September!


Microsoft. (2014). A yellow daisy [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Abandon the Stage! Embrace Webinar Radio!

(Microsoft, 2014)

A fellow e-Learning colleague and I were commiserating this week about assumptions that can sometimes be made when switching from face-to-face learning engagements to webinar learning engagements.

For me, it is like asking an experienced Shakespearian actor to give up the stage and confine himself to being a radio announcer. We talked about how to address webinar mediation barriers earlier. This post addresses the mindset behind abandoning the stage and embracing webinar radio. We’ll be talking about the importance of design and delivery as well as webcam use.


When designing your webinar learning, you have to take into account that you audience won’t be able to see you during most or all of the learning engagement. You have to take into account that you won’t be able to see them. Using interactivity, expressing the clear logical flow of the learning from beginning to end, making learning as experiential and bite sized as possible while achieving learning outcomes is a tall order for any learning experience. It is especially crucial when designing your next learning event on webinar radio.


Great actors and great trainers are really good at using their voice and body language to impart energy and enthusiasm. In webinars, many times you voice is the only instrument that you can use to transmit your excitement or to convey your caution about a topic. Embracing webinar radio means you need to warm up your voice before you begin the webinar. Exaggerate your delivery when off camera as your voice will help communicate that body language of leaning in and gesturing.


While webcams can help bring you back to the stage, it needs to be used sparingly. Use webcams when you want to encourage dialogue and foster re-engagement. A good time to use webcams is to introduce the training session or to encourage dialogue as part of a training exercise. Even then, you only have your head and shoulders to convey body language. Flying hands can be distracting when you are on camera.

Webinars are all about reengaging your audience so don’t make your talking head something that blends into the background. Remember that webinars are mainly done in radio mode without you or the participants being able to rely on webcams. Don’t get me wrong, I love using webcams. They can enhance learning but can be distracting if they are center stage throughout the entire learning engagement.

Are you ready to abandon the stage and embrace webinar radio?


Microsoft. (2014). Radio [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|

Overcome Two Mediation Barriers

(Microsoft, 2014)

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.


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.


“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|

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:

Webinar Myth #4: The Eager SME Myth

(Microsoft, 2014)

When going over projects that called for webinar delivery at kick-off meetings, I would explain to my clients, “A week before the first webinar, we should schedule an hour for a dry run.” Cries of “Why do we need to do this?” and “I don’t have time to work on this project as it is” are typical responses. I would explain how we would run through the features they would need to know about for the training session, discuss how chats would be handled and the order of the presenters. If we didn’t need the rehearsal, the meeting would be cancelled and everyone would get “back” some time.  There would be reluctant agreement.

Then hits what I call the “two-weeks-out calendar effect”. Have you ever noticed how appointments on our Outlook calendars are just amorphous objects, kind of like mythical figures from a long forgotten book we read in elementary school? They are there, in the background, lurking until the clock strikes midnight and our carriages turn back into pumpkins. Then reality hits when we are looking at our schedule for the next few weeks and find our first webinar on our schedule as a tangible, immovable object that must be dealt with!

The dialogue with my clients is much different once the “two-weeks-out calendar effect” strikes. “When are we going to discuss the order of the presenters?” “When are we going to figure out how to use the webinar features?” My reply is always the same: during the hour long rehearsal I scheduled right after the kick-off meeting. I have never given back that entire hour’s worth of time to even the most reluctant Subject Matter Expert (SME). Every SME expressed their gratitude for this preparation and webinars went as smoothly as advanced preparation could make them.

Having been on both sides of the training desk as both a SME and as a learning professional, I understand how precious everyone’s time is. If you are getting reluctance for webinar rehearsals, maybe you should forward this blog 🙂


Microsoft. (2014). Tragedy drama mask from the theater [Digital Imag. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|

Webinar Myth #3: The Content Equality Myth

(Microsoft, 2014)

During the winter we tackled the first two myths of conducting successful webinars: the myth of saving money and the myth of the ideal webinar.  Today, we’re going to discuss webinar myth number 3: the Content Equality myth.

“Distance study is structurally different from traditional face-to-face instruction. I refer to the following obvious characteristic features which can be discerned at first sight: indirect (symbolic) interaction versus direct interaction” (Peters, 2010, p. 39).  Something that the field of distance education has been struggling with for over a century is how to make distance learning as engaging and beneficial to students as face-to-face learning engagements.  Webinars also encounters the similar issue of interaction at a once remove.

Sherry Turkle (2011) talks about how technology gives us the ability to hide from each other even as we are continually connected to each other.  While everyone is connected to each other in a webinar, it does not mean that everyone is engaged with the learning.

Turkle (2011) also talks of how technology allows us to multitask.  Webinar participants join the webinar and their name in on the list of participants.  This can give the illusion of attendance.  However, the temptations of getting “real” work done, answering email, making another update to that all important report can prove to be too powerful.

My clients would have a PowerPoint that they used to present in a face-to-face class.  They wanted to use their existing deck as a webinar.  Based on what we have been talking about so far, you can see that more work still needs to be done to ensure that the webinar is a success.  We need to discuss webcam use, plan polls, discuss how to use chat to help keep our audience engaged.  The more engaging and relevant the interactions, the less tendency of participants to multitask.


Microsoft. (2014). Scales [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Peters, O. (2010). Distance education in transition: Developments and issues: Vol. 5 (5th ed.) [Adobe Digital Edition]. Retrieved from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg website:

Turkle, S. (2011). TEDxUIUC – Sherry Turkle – Alone together [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

Winter 2014 Blog Recap

It’s 60 degrees here in PA.  If you missed any of our winter blogs, check out this 5 minute Pecha Kucha to catch up.  Happy Spring!


Microsoft. (2014). Winter [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Win-Win for Blended Webinar Audiences

(Microsoft, 2014)

As L&D professionals, we would love nothing better than to keep our audiences separate.  In-room participants in one session.  Virtual participants in a different session.

In the real, busy world, we need to make the best use of our time and our participant’s time.  So blended audiences in webinars are a reality.  How do we make blended webinars a win for both in-room and virtual participants?

Be Inclusive

Welcome both your in-room and virtual participants.  It sets the stage that both sets of participants are part of the learning experience.  When asking questions, be sure to include both audiences in turn.  Be consistent – always address in-room participants first or second.  It just makes it easier for the participants to know what’s happening next.

Encourage Chat

Your virtual participants need to have a voice.  Having them actually speak can be at the least disrupting.  With large audiences, this can be impossible.  We talked about having two people involved with webinars.  One person can monitor chat and bring to the attention of the presenter relevant questions.  You won’t be able to address every chat in a large group, it is more important to address the most topical or most repeated chats.

Call Virtual Participants by Name

With in-room participants, we can simply look at someone to acknowledge them.  We have been discouraged from calling in-room participants by name so as not to put them on the spot.  With virtual participants, you need to take the opposite approach and call on them by name.  Because they can’t see you and can be distracted by things (like email ;)) in their physical environment, you need to call them by name to re-engage them in the learning.

What other ways have you been able to make webinar learning events a win-win for both in-room and virtual participants?


Microsoft. (2014). Blender [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Three Unexpected Webinar Costs

(Microsoft, 2014)

Webinars can be cost effective and, if done correctly, can be as effective as face-to-face training events for corporate learning and development organizations.

When we think of the costs related to webinars, we tend to think of cost savings.  We’re not paying for class rooms, whiteboards, projectors, tables, and travel.  We’re saving money there!  The webinar software?  This could be seen as a zero sum game – we are reusing our virtual meeting software!


I facilitated training events using a webinar tool which did not allow me to pre-load polling questions.  There were only five questions throughout a 90 minute webinar.  However, even using cut and paste to enter the polls on the fly, 2 minutes was wasted and lessened the effectiveness of using polling.  2 minutes doesn’t sound like much until you realize this represents 2% of the total training time.  It felt like forever.  Participants were waiting – something you never want to have happen during a webinar.

We moved to another platform that allowed the polling questions to be pre-loaded, meaning no wasted time and polling questions being an effective part of the learning event.  So if the virtual, collaborative, webinar platform truly supports learning, this truly is a zero sum game.  Otherwise, it really isn’t.


Only someone who has not been in the webinar crucible would think that the presenter can do this on their own.  While the presenter is talking, the participants are chatting: “I couldn’t register for this session, how can I get credit?” “I can’t hear the presenter” “I have a question about the point the presenter just made…”

During the 90 minute webinar, I moderated the session, handled registration/technical questions, verbalized the content questions to the presenters during the final Q&A portion of the session, and closed the session.  I also had a weather eye on my email during the beginning of the session to see if there were any last minute registration questions.

My preference is to have three people helping at each session, one presenting, one moderating, one helping with technical problems.  Two is the bare minimum.  One is a recipe for disaster.


Voice Over IP Headsets are recommended by webinar software providers.  If you have an organization of 20 people, this cost is negligible.  However, if your enterprise is over 10,000 people, this could be a small cost that just adds up.

Are there any other unexpected costs you have encountered in your journey of using webinars for live training sessions?


Microsoft. (2014). Figures carrying away dollar bills [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|