To Be in the Room or Not to be in the Room: Does it make a difference when it comes to CE?
I recently overheard someone commenting that an educational web presentation was not as effective as an in-person lecture because it lacked back-and-forth communication between the lecturer and the students. I must admit that my first thought was, “when did my professors ever let anyone in the class get a word in edgewise?”
Having thought that, I do believe that interaction between a presenter and the audience is important. It helps the participants do just that—participate. And I would have agreed with the person who made the comment had it not been for the fact that I know it is possible to involve a remote webcast audience in a two-way discussion during a live webcast. And I’ve seen how effective webcasts can be when it comes to getting the event content across in a meaningful way. Today’s technology (like InReach) enables the audience participating outside of the event venue to communicate easily with the presenter and visa-versa.
I have a simple theory about why there is a misunderstanding regarding the level of participation that a webcast will allow. It is new media and we are still finding our way around it. I think we might be seeing faster acclimation to webcasting on the participant side. Most of us communicate online on a regular basis—email, social networks, IM, etc. Some participants have told me that they are actually more inclined to get involved in the discussion or ask questions when they are attending online. I found that interesting and understandable. No one can see your nerves when you don’t have to stand up and speak in front of a room full of people. And participants want to make the webcast work. It is enormously convenient for them. On the presenter side, it takes work to adjust to the remote audience. Presenters are typically more accustomed to working with an in-person audience. Some have experience being filmed, but that’s not the same. A webcast presenter needs to be aware that she has two audiences, with different needs, and communicate with both. She also needs to remember to include the remote viewers in Q&A discussion both from the perspective of acknowledging and taking their questions and making sure that the discussion in the room is accessible to the remote viewers (microphones need to be used by audience members who ask questions, as an example). This takes practice, but it’s not difficult.
As with most things, the proof is in the pudding. From what I can see, webcast attendees are taking in the content in a meaningful way, feeling a part of the event, and giving webcasts high marks for convenience and ease of use. And the presenters that we’ve seen seem to be adjusting well (and are pleased with the expanded audience). So I will have to respectfully disagree with the person who made the comment about lectures being more effective than webcasts for education--and especially when it comes to continuing professional education. There will always be things that are better experienced in person—the birth of your children, dinner with friends, and Rome—to name a few. But webcasts are a highly effective media for learning.