Category Archives: Online Education

One-sided Webinars

Because I can’t be everywhere all the time, I use webinars to present training. You likely have either watched a webinar or had the pleasure of presenting one. They are ubiquitous in the training world. Webinars let you broadcast your training to whoever will log in, and if you remember to click the “record” button, you can post the recordings for anyone to watch at a later time.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with webinars. I like the convenience of holding webinars. I don’t have to arrange for a room, drive somewhere, deliver training, and drive back. I can open my laptop and start a session in a matter of a few minutes. I plug in my headset, and away we go!

It’s not that easy, though, to present a good webinar. You know, the kind where you plan according to a goal for the training, create the presentation or map out the tool you’ll demonstrate, construct polls for interaction, and create the follow-up survey. And if you’re conscientious, you’ll edit the video for clarity, dropping out the gaps in the presentation and the ummms and ahhhhs that naturally occur during live training, and then post the recording and add it to follow-up e-mails from the platform.

Another pitfall of the webinar format is when presenters follow the one-sided approach to their webinar. They soldier on through the material without giving any thought to how it might be received. Questions go unanswered, comments in the chat box are left dangling. Webinar attendees lose interest and check their e-mail. I, too, am guilty of being one-sided on occasion. The webinar format can be convenient, but it can be deadly dull, too.

The best webinars are engaging. Presenters frequently stop to ask questions of the participants and request feedback. Then, they pay attention to the questions and feedback and incorporate that into the presentation. Polls and surveys can help get feedback from participants. Good presenters keep the tone upbeat and move at a pace that keeps the topic fresh.

A good webinar also depends on the presenter having assistance from someone running the technology or having practiced enough to know the technology. I don’t have the luxury of an assistant and have to run the webinar dashboard at the same time I am the presenter. I have been guilty of forgetting to take myself off mute before starting the webinar. (I also failed to notice the comments in the chat box telling me the participants couldn’t hear anything.) Now I have a checklist and follow the same process each time I begin a webinar. I practice the material before I present live. I make sure it fits in the time allotted and leaves room for questions and feedback.

With planning and preparation, webinars can be a great tool for training people across a company with a geographically large footprint. They don’t have to be one-sided, either.

The Online Education Conundrum

A few years ago, I started advocating for an online education portal where our agents could go to access training classes if they couldn’t attend training in person. Unfortunately, the stigma of a previous incarnation of an online education portal for our company caused senior leadership to reject the idea. I should say that this was an early instance of online learning that was quite rudimentary. It left much to be desired.

Fast forward a couple years, and the attitudes changed in light of a growing company with the need to offer training to people in several locations. Instructor-lead training is the norm, and the ability to offer classes in multiple locations at times people were willing to attend has become problematic. Now, online education seems to be the solution to the problem.

Instead of evaluating various platforms available in the marketplace, we took a different approach. One of our partners is a local college of business that provides online pre-licensing and continuing education courses across the country. Without much knowledge of the platform they were moving their online education offerings to, we agreed to partner with them in a new venture. The college would offer our agents the ability to register for pre-licensing courses or take continuing education courses online through a custom-designed portal. We would have the ability to place our education offerings online using this platform and our agents would have access to them via the same portal.

This seems like a win-win situation. The college gets more business for their pre-licensing courses and online continuing education, and we get a place to put our content online. The agents get access to what they need, when they need it.

Here’s where the questions pop up: What kind of platform is this, and how easy is it to build courses for online use? The platform the college chose was designed for use by K-12 institutions. It does the job, but it’s not an easy platform to work with for our purposes. I find myself creating content, then having to manipulate it in such a way as to get it into the course I design. One example: videos can be uploaded directly to the platform; however, for viewing ease, I upload the video to YouTube, copy the embed code, paste it into a text document, save the document with a particular title and .html, move that document to a zip file with the same title, then upload it to the platform. This is not what I would call user-friendly.

The end result is not bad. I can categorize the courses, and they work as designed. Unfortunately, we have yet to launch this platform for our agents despite having access to it from the back end for almost a year. We are waiting for the college to migrate all of their content to the platform, and then we’ll be able to make it live. I often think it would have been much easier for us to contract with a platform provider directly. We would have had it up and running by now.

The benefit to having this online education portal with the college may be intangible at present, but the relationship offers us other benefits we can’t deny. Our recruits get an automatic scholarship when they register through our portal. We have a revenue sharing agreement that gives us a portion of the proceeds from online continuing education that our agents complete. And, we have created a relationship with this college that offers us access to resources we can’t maintain on our own.

I’ll keep plugging away at placing our content on the platform. Once we go live and agents have a chance to experience the training, I’ll be in a better position to evaluate if this is the answer to our prayers.