Published on 2012/06/29

Webinars are an excellent model for higher education institutions to deliver low-cost, highly accessible content to a wide group of students. Photo by Ted Major.

Webinars play increasing role in adult and continuing education

Want to learn math, networking technology, new software or gain certifications in HR or IT? It’s dizzying the number of subjects and topics being offered over the web. Many earn education or certification credits.

Many for-profit universities have nearly every topic of instruction available on-line. While online learning should not be the only answer in a blended learning world, it certainly should be part of the catch-up strategy of cash strapped public institutions of higher learning.

You can now do a lot on-line. In some cases, real-time interactively. Distance and collaborative learning has become widely accepted for certification and compliance training. Many call center agents now are trained in their home with evening on-line collaborative and training sessions – it’s a souped-up webinar. I’ve been both an instructor and an attendee of these training programs. These agents then work from their homes. JetBlue and DirectTV use this method to reduce their training costs and improve retention in a high turnover labor market.

Sales and marketing folks are spearheading the way to the acceptance of on-line activity. You can find a webinar with almost every pitch one can imagine. There are hundreds of webinars every hour of every business day on most any topic. We tend to discount many of these webinars as sales presentations, discounting their value in the learning sphere.

However, it is important to note that a huge amount of knowledge is shared in the aggregate of these webinars on any given subject. Often the presentation will include a subject matter expert on the topic who will often share information that may not be readily available elsewhere. With recording capabilities offered for many webinars, one can register and then use the play back link to the recorded version if their work or activity schedule won’t allow them to attend the live webcast. This gives a time shift to extended learning. As the delivery technology platforms and bandwidth have improved, more interactivity is possible for attendees with white boards, chat, mind maps, screen sharing project applications and more. One would be amazed at the information one can glean from this barrage of webinar presentations.

Many educators and trainers still disparage on-line learning for lack of personal interaction, body language, interactions on breaks or at lunch among students, and impromptu discussions. Others have concerns about interruption, multitasking, or just distracted learners they can’t see. The facts are that most of us are now connected wherever we are except while sleeping—most of us anyhow. Smartphones, tablets and social networking has changed the way we accept and use these tools for learning. Students can research a class subject on-line while in a webinar environment and interact on the subject in real-time. I’ve had students do it, and I have done it myself. This is not distraction. This is comprehensive learning, if the adult learner is so motivated.

Our incoming workforce has already adapted to instant access to information and sharing that information to get friends and others input or ideas in real-time. We see it everywhere almost every day with the number of connected devices numbering more than the inhabitants of this planet. In fact, the incoming workforce generations will bring their own device (SmartPhone, tablet or laptop) and expect your IT division to hook them up on the first day. After all that’s how they live and grew up. Why is that so difficult for organizations to accept?

Maybe unemployed and underemployed could take a lesson from this “bring your own device” (BYOD) generation and start using the webinar technology to learn as much as the presenter wants to sell. This approach could be as valuable as LinkedIn for networking and learning, because the presenter(s) have a topic and agenda, regardless of why the attendees are attending.

I don’t want to leave an impression that you can earn a MBA without ever being in a classroom with a paid knowledgeable educator. It may yet happen, but not anytime soon. The point is that attending webinars, which are usually provided free and often are led by very experienced subject matter experts that wish to share their knowledge and experiences for an enriched audience experience. As the content and delivery tools improve, more knowledge and value is delivered. This is only one of many methods to extend and enhance adult education and keep current on knowledge skills needed in the labor markets because keeping up your knowledge means keeping a job.

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