Webinar or Virtual Classroom?
When you want to reach an audience at several locations at the same time, a webinar or a virtual classroom might be a good option. What’s the difference and what works best? In short, I would say a virtual classroom is a classroom where the learners are connected via the internet. A webinar is more like an online lecture. The biggest difference is the interaction among learners. Let’s have a closer look at both of them to see what works best in your situation.
Webinars are suitable for both small and large groups, from 10 – 10,000 attendees. The maximum number of attendees will mostly depend on your software platform.Virtual classrooms should be kept small, preferably not more than 20 learners. If you would like to have more participants, you will need additional moderators to look after the technology, chat box and breakout rooms.
Webinars are often used to broadcast information about a topic. For example, the introduction of a new procedure or how to use storytelling for fundraising. Webinars are also suitable for sharing knowledge to promote your business, for sales purposes and to build a customer database.
As virtual classrooms are smaller and more interactive, they are a better medium to deliver a true learning experience about a specific topic. So instead of just talking about the new procedure or showing storytelling examples, the learners can take part in activities applying the new procedure or discuss examples, make a plan and work on their own story in smaller groups.
Webinars are a one-way lecture, providing information to a larger audience. The interaction is often limited to a chat box, a poll and a Q&A session at the end. What webinars are lacking is the real interaction among learners.
In a virtual classroom you can facilitate discussions, use a whiteboard and let the learners go into breakout rooms to work on a task with their group. Depending on your software platform, you can also ask participants to give a thumbs up or applaud and reward them with virtual prizes. Ideally, the trainer doesn’t talk longer than 5 minutes before the next activity starts. This also means that a virtual classroom takes more preparation time compared to a webinar. You need to to develop the activities (you could use a workbook) and prepare the breakout rooms.
The maximum time for a webinar is 45-60 minutes. You will often lose attendees’ attention with a long one-way conversation. Who hasn’t checked their emails or social media during a webinar? An engaging presenter and a poll or active chat box will help but listening attentively for an hour or more is hard work.
A virtual classroom could go for a bit longer, between 1-2 hours. But to keep the participants’ attention, your activities are crucial to keep them active. Also be aware that a virtual classroom takes more energy from the trainer than a face-to-face training. If you need longer, spread the content over more sessions.
We are all used to receiving a recorded webinar when we were not able to attend. The recordings are also great for sharing knowledge. So that’s an advantage of the webinar.
You can also record a virtual classroom but watching the activities while you are not involved is not the best experience. Also consider the length of the virtual classroom and the size of the recording. It works better to follow up a virtual classroom with microlearning, for example a couple of PowerPoint slides with the key take-aways or a short elearning module with additional exercises.
Do we have a winner?
No, we don’t. Both the virtual classroom and webinar have their strengths and weaknesses. It really depends on your content, what you would like to achieve, the audience size and the desired interaction with and among the learners that will determine which of these tools suits best.