To paraphrase Thoreau: "I ask for, not at once no webinars, but at once a better webinar."
I propose that webinars are the most abused, yet underutilized pedagogical tool in distance education. The opportunities that webinars provide--synchronous interaction, shared viewings of resources, and a record of the learning event--are nearly on par with classroom trainings. Sadly, however, instruction in this environment often takes a pedagogical step backward--more times than not webinar participants are greeted with little more than a PowerPoint and lecture from their instructor. Although understandable, this needn't be the case.
The evolution of contemporary distance education pedagogy, be it e-course or webinar, has followed the same pattern as classroom pedagogy:
- Sage on the Stage
Instructor's role: to impart information
Students' role: to accept information
In this first phase, the instructor is the center of the classroom and lectures to students. It has been well documented that this one-way push of information has very limited learning outcomes. In webinars, this results in students being easily distracted by other programs on their computers.
Instructor's role: to ask questions regarding the information they imparted
Students' role: to respond
At the "polling" stage, pedagogical techniques have evolved to include some student interaction, especially involving simple polling. In webinars, this leads to students feeling acknowledged and to the instructor having some informal metrics to gauge student comprehension.
- Guide by Their Side
Instructor's role: to design an environment that encourages student interaction and peer-to-peer learning
Students' role: to work together to assemble knowledge into a meaningful schema
In the most complex classroom and webinar designs, students create their learning while instructors guide them through the discovery process and act as resources to discover problems. In webinars, we have observed that students are more engaged, more willing to share with each other, and more willing to ask questions, which often leads to a higher willingness to accept the lesson's objectives. This is especially true of adult learners.
As with highly interactive classroom lessons, when you first start out, designing interactive webinars does take more time than simply preparing a lecture and PowerPoint, but the rewards make it well worth it.