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How To Make The Most of Webinars For Personal Learning & Development

Webinar (noun); a seminar conducted over the Internet.

Coming into the world as part of the web 2.0 wave in the late 90s, most people have at some point attended a webinar. And they normally go something like this:

First, you receive an email about a particular product or market which you decide to register on. Then on the day of the event, you click the ‘join’ button in the most recent reminder email and awkwardly install some software, before being talked at by a presenter (read: salesperson) repeating text from bad PowerPoint slides for 45 minutes.

There may be a chat window, but it’s likely there’s little interaction anyway. At the end, you have the chance to ask your question, which might not get answered, before you are asked to part with your money and get follow up emails ad infinitum.

Or maybe you’ve been on an educational webinar, one on a topic of work or personal development interest. You have high hopes of learning something new, but instead you get a boring presenter with boring slides and… well, it’s just boring.

All Webinars are Not Created Equal

Now admittedly, not everyone has had this experience, but, sadly, according to the people I speak to on a regular basis, it’s more often than not.

From a delivery perspective, a webinar should be a great way to use technology to reach out to more people than you would be able to geographically visit, and certainly more economical than flying people around the world or even travelling a few hours across a county.

It should be a compelling way to tell the story of your product/service/features, as well as to collaborate on key learning points.

But if you’re just multi-tasking their way through, without the chance to interact with the subject matter expert or other learners, then webinars probably shouldn’t be on your L&D hit-list.

Before I share my top tips on how to get the most from webinars as an individual learner, let’s first take a quick look at where they fit into the L&D mix from an organisational perspective…

The Role of Webinars in Workplace L&D

If we take the view that webinars are interactive learning sessions, albeit to perhaps a larger audience than in a traditional classroom, and that we can cover any subject we would normally deliver a seminar on, then of course it’s part of the L&D offering.

Here it’s all about the blend.

I’m absolutely an advocate of webinars and the live virtual classroom (yes, there are differences!) – but that doesn’t mean it’s a panacea to all learning challenges.

Face-to-face classrooms, seminars, conferences, coaching, one to one’s, action learning groups, forums, university courses on campus, YouTube videos… they all have a place.

It’s our role as L&D professionals to look at the options available to us – all of the options! We select the best of them for what is needed for our audience, our organisation and what our people need to specifically be able to achieve at work.

But the actual ‘learning’ and ‘development’ of staff doesn’t have to be all about what the L&D Department deliver, and in fact it shouldn’t be.

The webinar format enables learning to be “chunked”, “bite-size”, or “micro-learning” (depending on which buzzword you’d like to use today). The selection of a webinar as part of the L&D offering needs to complement other forms of learning intervention: as part of another programme; or perhaps for an individual’s own professional development.

Webinars can be on such a diverse range of subjects and different formats that it’s worth seeking them out based on your own interests; asking your personal learning network (or mates on social media) what they recommend and trying from different providers.

Effective Webinar Participation

When I sign up for and attend a webinar, just like you, I’m investing time in myself (as well as whoever is delivering the session).

For it to be a worthwhile investment of my time, what I want is a valuable learning experience from someone more knowledgeable and experienced on a topic than myself. I want them to be interesting, passionate speakers, who excite and inspire me when talking about their subject.

Key to making the webinar a great learning tool for your professional development is how you approach and interact it, whatever the level of presentation quality is on offer.

Here are my 7 top things to do to ensure your webinar attendance is a good use of your time:

1. If there is a Twitter hashtag, engage with that before-hand

You can ask questions, get to know the speaker, look at their website or blog, find out more about the product and so on. This allows you to gauge your interest and plan what you want to take away from the session. If you aren’t on Twitter, or prefer to just ‘lurk’, that’s still equally valid.

2. If there are pre-session materials, use them!

More often people are providing a variety of materials to help you engage with the learning points or products/companies so that your time in the webinar is most valuable. If you get the chance to engage with them, you are again focusing your learning needs.

3. Use the communication tools in the software

Often there is a chat panel you can type in. It’s a great way to engage with the topic by sharing your own views, thoughts and links to any blogs or research that you use or have written. Don’t be shy, it’s all about supporting each other! Get to know other people in the chat, ask them for their Twitter name or look them up on LinkedIn if you want to continue the conversation with them.

4. Ask questions!

Some software will include a specific question panel to separate out a question on the topic or for the speaker(s) from the main chat window. If there is this option, use it to ensure your question gets seen and not lost in the chat window. If this option isn’t available, just use the chat window. You could preface it with “QUESTION: xxx” to make it stand out a bit more to a facilitator.

5. Be present and focused

At the beginning of the webinar, assume it’s going to be interactive, valuable and a great learning tool for you. Have it on your main screen (or full screen) so that it’s your focus. Switch off your email and put your phone on silent, so that you aren’t easily distracted and miss things. By doing this, using the chat, asking questions and thinking on the subject, you are going to get more out of, network easier and give the facilitators more to work with. It all goes together to making a great event.

6. Take notes

Make notes appropriate to you as you go through. This can easily be done on pen and notepad for putting things into your own words. Another way of doing this is to use your Print Screen key and quickly paste the image into a word processor with a short note underneath – you won’t have missed much at all in the time it takes to do this.

7. Follow up

This might be on the links shared, with the speaker, company or product, reflecting on your notes, writing a blog, continuing the discussion on Twitter or LinkedIn… so many ways! It can also include feedback to the speakers and company, it’s great to know what came over well and also some gentle constructive feedback to make it even better!

Make Webinars Part of Your Personal Learning Blend

Webinars can be a poorly run, badly produced, barely-focused on lecture to hundreds of people. Or they can be an efficient and effective way to have a conversation with a geographically dispersed group on a topic of interest and inspire people to do great things.

Just as a good presenter will invest their time in designing and delivering not just great content, but a great experience; it’s equally your responsibility, as a participant, to commit to the fully engaging with the experience if you’re to really benefit from it.

It’s also your choice, when looking at your own continuous development, to seek out the webinars (and other activities) that are the right fit for not only your interests, but also your values as a learner.

Interested in webinars for your Personal Development? Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs) are delivering a regular webinar series sharing the latest R&D and industry trends, and sharing the success stories from clients who are making their learning more personal, social and measurable. Find out more about Learning Pool Webinars.

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