The latest rage in the learning community is webinars. The Adobe Connect, WebEx and LiveMeetings of the words are sweeping the learning industry and leaving a path of Death-by-PowerPoint destruction behind it.Most webinars wind up mimicking the worst of the 1000-year old university model's tactics, reproducing slides, lectures and quizzes on a flat screen, with predictably abysmal results. We see this pattern with all breakthrough technologies. The first cars looked like horse carriages, the first movies were filmed stage shows, the first printing press was used to print the bible only, etc.It takes time for a new medium to develop its own character and unique vernacular.
Here's why webinars are the "motorized horse carriage" of our time:
1. Webinars are teacher-centric
All webinar platforms are designed for teachers, not students. The all mighty instructor can mute participants, field their questions, control the pace of the PowerPoint slides and even throw participants out of the session. The students are left to sit back and watch, occasionally invited to raise their hand to ask a question, a high-tech version of the 18th century class room.
2. Webinars are boring
The best that can be said about most webinars is that it gives participants the sensation of coma without the worry and inconvenience. I can't imagine how anyone can think it's a good idea to deliver a PowerPoint drone-a-thon that brings all the depth and drama of a C-span show.
3. Webinars are not about learning, but about information transfer
Have you ever attended a webinar that allowed time for reflection and conversation, for immersion and engagement? I didn't think so. It's all about "covering ground" and speeding through slides. Meanwhile, participants on the other side are updating their Facebook and catching up on their email. If a participant is called on, they'll have a crafty excuse along the lines of: "Ops, I was a on mute, what was that question again?"
4. There's no informal communication going on
One of the speakers of our Train for Success sessions in Second Life, Sarah Robbins, put it best: "No one has ever logged on to WebEx to hang out." We all know that informal communications accounts for 80-90% of all real learning in any organization. Yet, webinars are all about formality, you log on exactly when the meeting is scheduled to begin, start with slide one and end with the last slide or exactly 60 minutes later, whichever come first.
Let's kill webinars before it kills us. The future of synchronous learning is not built on the flat static pages of a webinar, but rather in traversable 3-D spaces. Think Facebook meets Grand Theft Auto, or a Smurf Village reduction of your meeting room.In the virtual world, you are "seeing" the meeting in an immersive 3-D environment. Participants are moving their avatars, their digital alter egos, around in a 3-dimensional world, interacting with other people by talking straight to their computers via a headset. As people move around, the sound changes direction. It's sound and sight in 3-D. Green waves radiate from the avatar that is talking, as it starts gesturing. It is an immersive environment that keeps participants completely focused on the task at hand. Virtual worlds succeed where the flatland Web applications of webinars fail: They engage. People suspend belief, you become the avatar. If you bump into someone else with your avatar, you start apologizing profusely, just as you would in real life. Unlike two-dimensional web-conferencing presentations, the 3D virtual environment gives participants the perception of being there - keeping them focused, engaged and motivated. Instead of watching 2D bar-charts of data, for instance, you can crawl around inside 3D bar-chart. Instead of watching an image of a product you're learning about, you can fly around a 3D replica of the product as a group. If it's a car you can take it for a drive.
How do we know 3D virtual worlds works better than webinars? Because hard evidence suggests that virtual worlds can be even more effective than a live class room. Loyalist College found that Second Life role playing improved the number of border agent students who passed a final evaluation from 56% to 93% when they moved it from the class room. Try to do that in a webinar if you can!
You're still not convinced? Join our weekly Train for Success meetings in Second Life and experience the future of learning. You will never look at a webinar the same way.