The power of a networked learning design using webinars

Dr Anthony Basiel addresses a series of questions exploring how we can build a blended learning opportunity within an organisation

To start, let’s form a common understanding of (e)learning. Vygotsky et al. see learning as a process, not a product to be delivered. So, a starting proposition is that learning takes place through stakeholder engagement off and online. Social constructivists would argue that ‘dialogue within a community stimulates new ideas’. 

A blended learning (BL) mix of face-to-face and online discourse has the potential to increase the connectivity of the audience. But what factors can influence the quality of the learning event?  

There are many instructional designs that can be used during a BL session. Our starting ‘telepistemology’ (view of virtual knowledge) sees meaning happening through the process of the stakeholders stating their positions on the topic of discussion and providing evidence to support their claims. 

A networked learning approach sees the value in establishing links between the event stakeholders. It is not just the individual’s mastery of content (e.g. demonstration of a learning objective), but the collective knowledge (or intellectual capital) that is generated through debate. Additionally, personal bonds established between presenter and participants can lead to extended learning/networking opportunities.  

The online tools needed in our BL event must support this dynamic communication exchange.  According to Taylor, “effective webinars rely on live contributions from attendees”.

Models of interaction

Webinars will generally have three main actors: a presenter, an audience and a facilitator. 

How can we get the BL event’s participants to share their skills, capability and tacit knowledge so the collective socially constructed (Web 2.0 learner-generated) content benefits the learning community?  

The following instructional design tips may promote participation. 

Establish a local facilitator
Along with the face-to-face presenter, a facilitator is identified to mediate between the speaker and the remote audience. They may bring to the presenter’s attention any questions from the text discussion board or ‘virtual hands raised’ to get an audio comment.

If there is a remote group, it may also have a local facilitator. This mediator may help with language translation (if needed) and act as a conduit between the group to pass on questions to the webinar presenter. 

Start with an ice breaker (establish the profile of the audience)

Do an online poll/vote. A phone app collects information for the presenter to identify key metrics, e.g. geographic location. This information can then be shared with the audience to promote audience relationships. 

Chunking content (pacing the discussion)

Learning should not be limited to recall of facts. Promote deeper learning for stakeholders through opportunities to apply their knowledge. For example, group problem solving/scenario analysis. 

Open-ended questions/answers

Where possible, ask a question instead of making a statement to promote learner-generated content. Participants become researchers to find solutions to real-world situations when presenters respond with a guiding question – not the answer. 

“A webinar design process is a blend of learning theory and appropriate technology, of art and science, to help stakeholders form their own meaning making.” 

Action learning through game design

Structure the problem in a competition format. Respondents win points for correct answers or contributions to solutions. 

Recording the webinar live/online

A web video recording of the event creates an eLearning artefact, allowing to plan ahead for your digital library management strategy. 

Two types of video can be produced: 

a) In-room videos can capture the presenter and Q&As using a digital camera on a tripod for higher production value, but you can also invite the stakeholders to be ‘citizen journalists’ by recording on their mobile devices.

b) Online video recording is also a valuable option. As an Adobe International Education Leader, I have used Connect to record webinars, which allows the ‘host’ to upload the file to the server. The .flv file can be downloaded and edited as needed. When converted to a MP4 format it is ready for your YouTube channel. Voice-to-text software or closed caption features help to produce a transcript of the event, which can be represented by a tag-cloud generator. 

Research ethics must be addressed (e.g. Bera Guidelines), as well as data protection of the participants. Consent forms are usually the best, but you can also use alternative methods such as posting a disclaimer statement in the text chat, or having the presenter announce the event is recorded; by participating, you agree to the conditions for ethical release. 

FAQ: Text discussions and video transcripts can be added to the digital library resources as a searchable FAQ text. Meta-tags help search optimisation. 

Survey: Data collected from the stakeholders informs what changes are needed for the development of the webinar design. 

Presenter/facilitator guides: Induction resources are useful to guide stakeholders’ expectations.

Case study: Arden University runs Lunchtime Learning Events regularly. Through these webinars, they develop an organisational learning culture. Arden also invites guest speakers to share their academic/professional knowledge and real-world experience with students and staff. 

In conclusion, using the instructional design tips suggested, webinars can be powerful tools to connect learners together, forming a networked learning opportunity. A webinar design process is a blend of learning theory and appropriate technology, of art and science, to help stakeholders form their own meaning making. 

Dr Anthony Basiel is Blended Learning Programme Leader for Computing at Arden University. He has been an eLearning thought leader for over 20 years in higher education and industry through innovation in work-based learning. As an Adobe International Education Leader, he has consulted on webinar design for a range of clients, from Oxford University to the Natural History Museum.

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