Are Webinars for Preaching to the Choir?

I often get ignored when I ask questions in webinars. It happens when I bother to pose a deeper type of question, generally about some point that doesn’t make sense to me. Some of my questions are probably dumb and naive, but it’s happened enough (in webinars and across all Social Media) that I’ve been reflecting on the purpose of webinars and my approach to participating in them. I’m also in a position now where I am on the production end of the webinar experience, so I need to consider how this medium is commonly used and what their affordances are.

Most recently in a webinar on Connectivism I asked how emergent learning is compatible with the view that non-human appliances can learn (a question I’ve wondered about for some time now – I’ll expand on it in another post eventually linked here). The response was that Connectivism concerns people, not machines. Thinking I might be wrong, I quickly checked it out & sent the link that states “Learning may reside in non-human appliances.”  At this point ignoring commenced.

This is just one example of many instances that are similar. What am I doing wrong? And why don’t these types of questions jive with the webinar medium? Several speculations come to mind:

  • Webinars are presentations – presenters present information and they aren’t really there to discuss them or the implications of these ideas and information. They are for people who already support the topic and for those new to the topic. Questions are asked in order to clarify the presenter’s transmissive message, not to explore open ends or to build on the knowledge. The webinar isn’t the proper place for deeper discussion, this is for blogs, emails and formal papers.
  • The hosts and moderators of the webinar, who often field the questions, are not content knowledgeable. Often they are experts in some field or some form or another, and they might try to field questions as an authoritative figure, but it doesn’t always work out. Moderator roles focus on bringing in quantity and moving things along smoothly.
  • Social learning emphasizes Socializing. Most people who attend, present, host and moderate are there for social reasons. If some learning happens as well, that’s great and expected but not at the expense of the social.
  • People get defensive when you question them, regardless of intent. The text nature of the chat box lacks tone and emotion, and it’s often difficult to interpret an underlying messages in such a medium, and easy to read one that wasn’t intended. Even when asked in earnest, questions can often and easily get interpreted as hostile.
  • People are busy and don’t have time to interact with everyone.
  • It’s a characteristic of the communities and field of interest that I participate in.
  • Most people in the education field say they want interaction, discussion, to be challenged, that they’re open to new and contrary ideas, to have their ideas built upon, innovation, thinking-outside-the-box, blah blah…A simple answer is that, when it happens, many actually don’t want this.
  • Online interaction, online education, and social media have a very strong clique culture. One of the biggest distinctions of the web 2.0 revolution was the shift in access to information to access to people. People don’t really want to be accessed, though, at least not on a personal level from outside their familiarity. They socialize in order to hang out with their own, to have people support them. Access to people becomes a characteristic after gaining entry into the clique.

The last two are kind of cynical, and reflect human nature. They isn’t much to consider even if there is a good chunk of truth to them. A lot of social media is affected by this characterization.

The second and fourth ones involve moderators, hosts and these get closer to the heart of the matter. As with much of online learning, it comes down to the skills and guidance of the moderators (a form of teacher roles) – how well can they pay attention to detail, and what are their motives.

The first one is very valid, I feel, but I also think that webinars can be used for deeper discussions if the content lends itself that way, and the participants welcome and expect it. Again the educator roles are key in making this happen.

The third one is the one that bothers me the most, because it creates a lot of noise, which runs interference to information and learning. I’m probably naive about this one, and maybe even willfully in denial. I just can’t believe that asking a deep question in a webinar is a way to kill conversation, yet talking about my cat is one of the best ways to build conversation.

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