Power your organisational learning with these alternatives to the traditional webinar

By Dr Toby Thompson and Steve Macaulay

Webinars have become a popular way of delivering on-line learning. Here at Cranfield, for instance, our Networked Learning team have used webinars for many years to deliver web-based organisational learning for a wide range of corporate clients. Requiring no travel, and with minimal disruption to the workday, webinars cost-effectively connect participants, a client’s own subject matter experts, and Cranfield’s campus-based faculty, creating a customised on-line organisational learning event.

But webinars aren’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. And from our experience, it is possible to tailor webinars to fit a wide range of individual on-line learning contexts, thereby making the best use of the webinar medium while simultaneously delivering an enhanced organisational learning experience.

So when thinking of organisational learning, in our view it is always worth considering whether one or more of these alternative forms of webinar might help your organisation to achieve a superior organisational learning outcome.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

The webinar as interactive lecture

This style of webinar comes closest to what most people consider to be a standard webinar, consisting of an input session led by a member of faculty. It is a cost efficient means of obtaining expert content that has been individually tailored to individual client requirements.

But such webinars best maximise the on-line learning experience when they are leveraged by an interactive discussion—discussion between participants, and discussion between participants and faculty—which elevates them from the ranks of straightforward web-delivered lectures.

We utilised this approach for a global shipping service company, for instance, utilising input not just from Cranfield faculty, but also in-house company specialists. With zero travel costs, a globally distributed body of learners received customised on-line learning from a wide range of experts.

The webinar as facilitated group discussion

When a major team project is underway, an on line coaching and review session involving a specialist coach is a powerful way of linking organisational learning to real-world problems and real-world projects.

Better still, it is true ‘action learning’, with the specialist coach reviewing project progress and providing insights or suggestions as how best to surmount difficulties and proceed to the next stage. Nor is the resulting organisational learning solely ‘top down’: typically, participants—perhaps many thousands of miles apart—help each other to overcome challenges.

Again, clients have found this to be very useful, with one globally-dispersed organisation finding the role played by the specialist facilitators to be invaluable in helping its project team to check and challenge its progress.

The webinar as unfacilitated group discussion

On-line organisational learning can also take place without faculty being formally present.

On long-running projects, or long-running development programmes, the provision of on-line discussion forums allows participants to share experiences and insights as an adjunct to more formal, facilitated group sessions, either face-to-face or on-line.

At Cranfield, these typically consist of unfacilitated team web conferences, hosted on our networking system, which allowing participants to communicate together to discuss team projects or other areas of interest. Such conferences can usefully act as a bridge between faculty led sessions, bringing together a wide cross-section of participants, often drawn from different locations and time zones.

As an example, a specialist global software group recognised that it was important to maintain momentum between face to face modules of its Cranfield-led executive development programme. Teams of participants within the programme were given company specific projects to deliver, on which they liaised through unfacilitated webinars.

The webinar as plenary session with syndicate groups

We’ve had excellent results using the breakout function on our webinar software. With a globally dispersed ‘high-potential’ audience in a healthcare organisation, by sub-dividing webinar participants into individual syndicate groups, we provide an opportunity for peer group interaction in small breakout sessions.

Participant sub-groups then feed back to the main webinar session the result of their breakout session deliberations, typically using a whiteboard session or shared document.

It’s a powerful way of combining faculty-led input and organisational learning with internal small group discussion and collaboration.

Which is precisely why one Cranfield client came to us for just such a combination. As a global NGO, it wanted to follow up a major internal programme with a cost-effective follow-up event at which specific follow-on projects could be conceived and mapped. This was achieved in a single virtual session.

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