Webinar vs. Web Conference: Which is Better for Employee Training? Part II

Man views webinar on laptop

In an earlier post, “Webinar vs. Web Conference: Which is Better for Employee Training? Part I,” we provided an overview of web conferences as a tool for corporate learning and compared them to their face-to-face meeting counterparts. This post continues with a discussion of webinars, and explains how their features differ from web conferences. It details the types of training events that benefit from the unique feature set provided by webinar delivery.

Let’s start with the basics. The word “webinar” is a clever fusion of the words “web” and “seminar.” In terms of audience size, webinars pick up where web conferences leave off. They often share the same account, software tools, and delivery platform. Most vendors offer a webinar version or webinar upgrade to a web conference account.

While web conferences usually support up to 25 participants, webinars can support audience sizes of 500 or more. Webinars are further distinguished from web conferences by the addition of audience tracking and the restriction of interaction features. For example, webinars generally restrict the use of participant webcam video. Only the “host” or a limited number of “panelists” are permitted to share webcam video.

To understand how webinars work, let’s again compare them to a face-to-face meeting style, common in large organizations. The face-to-face counterpart of a webinar is a keynote presentation. Keynote presentations are common for all-hands meetings, product announcements, conferences and large training events. They are often delivered in an auditorium or conference center to an audience of 100 to 500 attendees. The audience size, however, may exceed 1,000 for large events.

The format of a keynote presentation is designed to allow one speaker or a group of panelists to share information with a large audience. Participant interaction is limited and tightly managed to avoid interrupting the flow of the presentation. For example, participants may be asked to hold questions for a designated question and answer period. Attendees may be asked to come to a microphone to ask their question, and moderators may have a role in making sure the questions comply with the meeting goals and format.

Like a keynote, the webinar organizer invites participants to an online meeting “room.” Unlike the limited size of a web conference, the webinar room is designed to accommodate hundreds or thousands. Audio, video and screen sharing is restricted to the host and panelists to minimize interruptions. The audience interacts with the presenter or panelists using features like hand raising, Q&A buttons, or chat. The host may promote a participant to a panelist at any time.

Webinars are best known for their uses in marketing because of their ability to manage large audiences and capture lead information. These marketing features, however, can be easily redirected to meet training requirements. For example, attendee registration is an important feature that differentiates a webinar from a web conference, and has many uses for trainers. The registration process can be very helpful when learner tracking is important for a meeting or training session.

Attendee registration has made webinars a fundamental part of modern marketing strategies. It is likely that most readers of this post have participated in a marketing webinar and have experienced the registration process first hand. The general approach when applied to marketing goes something like this:

You receive an email about a presentation and click on a “register” button, which takes you to a registration page. You provide your email and other personal details, then press “submit.” You then receive an email that confirms your registration and provides a link to join the meeting. One week, one day, and then one hour before the webinar, you will likely receive another email that reminds you about the event.

The process was designed primarily to serve the needs of marketers; however, it can be easily repurposed to track and manage geographically distributed learners. Attendee information collected by the registration process may be imported into your company LMS or used standalone in a spreadsheet or database. This flexibility is particularly helpful when business requirements call for training customers, partners or outside vendors who may not have access to the corporate LMS system. For example, a Corporate Learning Department can deploy compliance training to non-employee learners and collect registration and attendance tracking data without the need to grant access to the corporate network and internal systems. How about employment candidates who need to take training before or leading up to employment? These individuals are often caught in an “catch 22” situation because policy or licensing restrictions prohibit granting non-employees a user account for the LMS.

You might be thinking, “All of our learners are employees with access to the LMS. Why would I need a webinar to track data? The answer is that webinars can be used to augment LMS capabilities. They empower you to blend live online classes with on-demand eLearning in the same curriculum. Webinars collect additional information and offer enhanced confirmation and post-class follow-up notification versus comparable LMS capabilities.

One last situation where webinars may be helpful: trainers working for small and medium sized companies who have not yet purchased an LMS. In this situation, webinar registration and tracking may be used instead of an LMS or as a temporary solution or workaround. When the company later acquires an LMS, the learner history can be easily imported into the new system.

So, which is better for employee training, a webinar or web conference? The answer depends largely on your requirements and the answers to the following questions:

How many employees do you need to train?

A web conference works well for training smaller groups (generally 25 or fewer) because of the increased ability for participant interaction. “Breakouts rooms” is a powerful feature offered by web conference platforms, like Zoom, Adobe Connect, and GoToTraining, that allows the meeting host to move participants to separate “rooms” for small group activities. Hosts can listen in on discussions in each room before pulling everyone back together in the main session.

When your requirements call for large groups, webinars are the better choice. They simulate a keynote presentation and allow you additional control while retaining important interaction features like hand raising, polling, chat, and Q&A.

Do you serve learner groups who are without access to the corporate network and LMS?

Webinars provide an attractive alternative when you need to reach learner groups who are not currently employees. Webinars provide both delivery and tracking capabilities. The data collected by the registration and attendance tracking process can be easily uploaded to an LMS or an external database.

Do you need records of training participation or completion?

Compliance training is a critical part of corporate curricula and is often accompanied by strict tracking requirements. Web conference tools generally omit registration and user tracking features because they are designed first and foremost for collaboration. Webinars track registration and attendance to allow the organizer to run reports showing who attended and completed the training and, in some cases, their level of engagement during the session. Webinars do not offer the ability to deliver and track assessments. They do, however, offer polling questions for live online learning as proof that participants were engaged throughout the session.

Web conferences and webinars each provide unique capabilities to help you deliver engaging training content to meet customer and learner needs. The choice of which to use should be based on a careful analysis of your requirements. As Live Online Learning continues to grow as a delivery format, it’s never too early to start exploring the tools and considering the options to build your training delivery roadmap.

Leave a comment below to let us know how you are using web conferences and webinars for employee training. Be sure to subscribe to the SkillQ Advisor Blog for updates on future articles that further detail webinar and web conference best practices.

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