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Engagement in webinars and virtual classrooms


There is a distinction between a webinar and a virtual classroom. A webinar is a “web seminar” – it’s live online, with lots of people. It can be sales, marketing, training and all sorts.

Let’s contrast this to a virtual classroom. There’s other terminology you can use too, such as Virtual Instructor Led Training, Live Online Learning and much more.

The way I define a virtual classroom is that it’s about facilitating the training, focusing on performance, and for a small group people. I limit my virtual classroom train the trainer courses to just ten people at a time.

You can read more about the distinction between these two approaches on my eLearning Industry article.


Why is this an important distinction to make? It’s largely about what you want people to do after a session and how you go about doing that. We’ve all been on those awful boring webinars. But they don’t have to be that way, just because you have twenty or two hundred or two thousand people, webinars can be engaging and help people to achieve their goals.

There are all sorts of elements that make great live online sessions. They include:

  • Knowing your topic
  • Being passionate
  • Knowing your software
  • Designing the session specifically as a webinar or virtual classroom
  • Being a great facilitator with the skills for live online delivery
  • Interaction, engagement and activities

The importance of interaction

“One of the disadvantages of online video lectures is that it is hard for learners to passively watch them. Adding interactivity increases the effectiveness of the lectures and expands the attention span of online learners”

(Cherrett, Wills, Price, Maynard, & Dror, 2009; Dror, Schmidt, & O'connor, 2011; Kim et al., 2014).

This research was about using interactive video in learning I think we can apply to live online sessions too. Especially when you consider that poor webinars and virtual classrooms are not much better than just watching a video.

“The use of interactive video… enabling a more effective application of principles learned in the workplace, accelerating the process of skill acquisition”

(Schwan and Reimpp, 2004).

Here the point is that interactivity helps people pay attention in the session.


What is interaction in a webinar or a virtual classroom?

Felder and Brent (2009) define active learning as "anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening, and taking notes". So it’s basically activities and conversations as you might have in a face to face session.

There are all sorts of tools to use live online, such as chat, polls, whiteboards, breakouts, verbal discussion over microphone/telephone, screen share, giving control of your computer to others and a creative mixture of all of them.


How often should we interact?

Most books and blogs will recommend every 3-5 minutes, which means not speaking for more than five minutes at a time. For a webinar this can work pretty well. If you have a chat window there might be a lot of engagement going on there anyway. What if you don’t have a chat window? Well you can read this for my thoughts on it.

Whenever I measure my interaction in sessions it works out to be about every two or two and a half minutes. These are questions, activities and discussion points to the whole group in a session. The feedback is always positive, that attendees are engaged with the topic and focused on their learning. They tell me that they are surprised that they haven’t “multitasked” with their email very much, if at all, and they don’t realise that the interaction is this often, it just feels natural. Remember that the interaction could be as quick as “click the green tick/check mark if you agree”.

Whichever model of interaction you select, it’s about doing this often, but also ensuring that it’s engagement with meaning for the learners and not for the sake of it and using a variety of platform options so that there isn’t tool fatigue.



How can you design interaction this often?

It’s really focusing on what learners can do or say rather than what we do or say. It’s also about having a great template to use to help us. I have a template of my facilitator guide that I used for webinars and virtual classrooms. This blog post gives you the template and a walk through of why I designed it this way. The whole point of this is for you to take what works for you to adjust your own workflow, you don’t have to slavishly copy mine if you don’t want to.

“Social learning is participating with others to make sense of new ideas” says Marcia Conner. You can read more on her website.


Over to you

What do you think on any of these points? What can you add or how do you tackle this?

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