Tuesday, 11 September 2012

CPD: What next with webinars?

Continuing professional development has never been more important. Content remains the most serious aspect of training but in reality, providers are keen to be fully engaged with course attendees and they are constantly looking at new and better ways to deliver their CPD content. With this in mind I attended an ‘Innovation in CPD webinars’ breakfast meeting this morning as representative of the firm’s Learning & Development Committee. 

Internet Based Learning

Bombora's green camera
Based in Clerkenwell, ‘Bombora delivers online video solutions including webinars, webcasts and streaming live events; Working with our legal, professional services and corporate clients, we help customers deliver more effective online communications’. Basically they work with publishers such as Thomson Reuters and look at ways to ensure webinars  are engaging, well produced and professional. To this end Bombora were keen to hear what consumers want, what other publishers were doing and generally have a conversation about the future of online learning. 

It is unnecessary to dwell at any length on the huge rise in internet based learning; from GSCEs to degrees, further professional study, and studying for pleasure people use online resources. They suggest that most places of learning (and I would perhaps query the veracity of this) have moved beyond the fixed camera filming a lecturer with fuzzy visuals and terrible sound and are becoming more professional. For example if you download a lecture from iTunesU quality can be variable but the benefits of listening for free to a renowned lecturer can outweigh any disadvantages. However if you are paying for a service you would expect higher quality production values with facility for more interaction. 

Advantages of Webinars

Firstly we looked at the advantages of webinars and we call agreed that these included their relatively low cost, no travel required/convenient access for anyone with an internet connection and geographic reach. When broadcast live, there was facility for interaction with the speaker, Q&A and the possibility for one-stop shared links and resources. Even when the webinar was no longer live, recordings and slides with notes would still be available to disseminate to others. 

Disadvantages of Webinars

We then discussed disadvantages which were of great interest to Bombora. No networking, problems with attention spans, and a lack of commitment to ‘attending’ and putting aside time to watch webinars were immediately mentioned. Webinars have a ‘low value’ aura so if something more important came up, lawyers (or other professionals) may not attend. Further, senior people perhaps enjoy the cachet of going to expensive international conferences and the accompanying status that goes with that; it was also suggested that business development/networking at such events was an essential part of the role of senior professional. 

From the provider’s point of view, e-learning can be less profitable. When a webinar is recorded, it can be watched by many people, whereas the same lecturer could give a talk a number of times and earn a speakers fee each time. Providers also mentioned that it can be a challenge getting experienced speakers to appear in front of a camera and even when they do, performing in a recording studio without a live audience to gauge reaction (are they going too slow, too fast, boring the audience, striking a chord etc?) can be a challenge. 

Another disadvantage was feedback. In this world of internet anonymity people may be far more scathing of an average webinar than they would be of an average event where they’d had a good lunch and spoken personally with the seminar presenter/chair. This is obviously very much dependent on individuals but all criticism should ideally be constructive! 


We were informed that the UK training industry was one of the largest industries in the country. I think the intense competition is a good thing for improving e-learning because users are becoming more tech savvy and sophisticated; people expect interactivity. Bombora then explained how webinars are allowing users to save money using a lovely bit of jargon called ‘Channel shift’. This is where people are encouraged to move away from the more expensive ‘person’ options of face to face or telephone and go online. 


The problem is engagement; how can we be sure that people are going to retain what they have learnt? It has been proven that lectures and audio visual is the least effective method of learning, with typical 5-10% retention rates. One method that Bombara are really looking into is using TV style production values – lighting, staging, graphics etc. I get where they are coming from, for instance if a company like Thomson Reuters do not get their webinars professional in presentation and content, it could potentially be quite damaging to the brand. 

However they used (rather alarmingly) X-Factor as an example, in that they have a predetermined format with a start, middle and end which enables you anticipate what is coming up...Is it possible to use this programme method if you are describing the minutiae of a piece of tax legislation; or how a case will impact ancillary relief? They also discussed the use of idents/sting as an equivalent of looking up at the sky... Who hasn’t examined the ceiling of a seminar room? 

The Future 

Finally we looked at future development and new technologies. Why do we need slides in webinars? Are they merely comfort blankets for attendees? (can’t we just throw PowerPoint out of the window?). Where is mobile learning going? Are we going to do all our CPD on a tablet on the train? Where will 'omnitouch' take us? What use will interactive HTML 5 be in the future? 


Overall it was a good event providing opportunities to think about the future of webinars. It provided an excellent good insight into how seriously providers are taking the development of e-learning and making it work for customers. It is also good that they are not ‘reinventing’ ideas but taking successful broadcasting experiments and applying them to webinars (but no X-Factor or taX Factor please!). But finally I think it is rather telling that ‘Innovation in CPD webinars’ was a successful session because we met face to face and swapped ideas in a room together and NOT over the internet…

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