Conferencing vs. Webinar Platforms – What’s the Difference? – Part 2

Webinar-Plattforms

Webinar platforms are used to provide and offer webinars. This blog describes the important tasks and features of modern platforms.

Webinar Types

Webinars are online seminars in which learners access learning content via the Internet or exchange knowledge with others. This blog describes important tasks and functions of modern webinar platforms.

Live Webinars

A live webinar is an educational activity in which the trainer speaks to the participants via the Internet and maybe presents document content. The transmission of videos is optional. The main advantages of live webinars are the spatial independence of a venue, the elimination of travel expenses, and the usually rather short duration. As a main disadvantage I feel as a speaker the lack of personal contact during the event, the difficult exchange of feedback, and the lack of dynamics of a live seminar.

Webcasts

Webcasts (or recorded webinars) are lessons that are available 24/7 via the Internet. The presence of a supervisor or trainer is not required. The participant learns where and when he wants. A learning platform provides the content of the webinars over the Internet. Many types of media and services are designed to provide a motivating experience.

The main advantages of recorded webinars are the knowledge transfer independent of location and time, the optimally prepared teaching units with a very short duration (maximum of about 5 minutes) and the spontaneity of knowledge acquisition (no in-sequence training). The main drawbacks are the lack of contact with other participants during a training session, the lack of external motivation for the participant to continue learning.

 

Webinar Platforms – Typical Features

Basic Features

The basic features and services of the webinar platforms are very similar to those of the meeting platforms.

For a webinar you usually invite participants via e-mail or chat. You may need a unique identifier for each webinar or you will use the same identifier for all your webinars (this will allow even unannounced visitors to spontaneously participate in a live webinar as soon as the identifier is known).

Individualization

Some platforms offer the creation and customization of landing pages for each webinar or account. They also allow the branding (for invitation e-mails, the user interface of the webinar platform and the access to individual webinars) adapted to the appearance of your web pages (color design, company logo, individual texts, own desired domain, etc.).

Access

Most participants access the web platform via the Internet. Many systems also allow the participation by telephone (a subscriber is actively called by the platform, or he dials-in to a predefined number, either toll-free or paid).

End Devices, Terminals

As with meeting platforms, webinar platforms support the integration of many types of terminals and operating systems.

During a webinar, trainers may want to present the contents of one or more screens (including tablets or smartphones) in the webinar. Ask your provider of the platform which devices the solution supports and how the device is to be connected to the platform (example: via cable, BlueTooth, Wireless LAN). Each of these variants has certain characteristics and affects the “experience” of a live webinar differently.

Images and Videos

Images help us in the learning process to better retain knowledge. Moving images (videos) additionally enliven a training. Provide videos (in different formats like MP4, Youtube, or similar) and benefit from a better perception of the participants. But pay attention to very good quality and high resolution of the recordings.

Documentation, Handouts

Provide participants with additional documents to download. Or provide links to more information on the Internet.

Tip: Pay attention to the supported file formats of your presentation materials and consider the effort of converting your original files to the target format of the webinar platform.

When different trainers create their presentations using a variety of tools, discuss with your supplier which formats the solution supports to make the presentation of the documents successful.

Are you involved in product design or do you have anything to do with three-dimensional objects? Then you should clarify whether the webinar platform also allows the 3D presentation, and participants can move the object.

Background Design

Admittedly, some video recordings made by trainers during a webinar make it hard to focus on the trainer. The attendee may be distracted by more interesting objects or objects that are not suitable for webinars. If you want the attendee’s undivided attention, configurable virtual backgrounds are the best choice. They determine what the participant sees next to or behind the trainer (for example, a company logo, a photo of a product, a beautiful landscape, or just a neutral solid area).

Software Equipment for Trainers and Participants

Depending on the webinar platform, special software must be installed for the trainer or the participant. Keep in mind that not everyone interested in a webinar has the rights to install a plug-in or app and can not use the platform. Here are solutions that require only a web browser on the client side. The underlying technology is called WebRTC (Web-based Real-Time Communication). It is automatically available in most browsers today. Therefore, this technique does not require the installation of plug-ins or other software packages, and is often supported by unified communications services or conferencing solutions.

Chat and Speech-to-Text

The exchange of instant messaging between participants and trainers or within defined groups (public or private) dissolves the participants’ isolation and gives the group members the opportunity to interact.

If you e.g. watch videos on Youtube, you have already noticed that you can turn off the current transcription on and off. The situation is similar with webinars. Again, there are solutions that support the presentation of transcriptions (speech-to-text) in parallel to the presentation of the seminar content. And this in several languages!

Enhanced Features of Webinar Platforms

Gesture control is currently still in its infancy. Voice control, which is known by Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri or Google Assistant, is already widely used thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Webinar platforms now also support voice control. Ask for an application for this innovative feature.

Some solutions allow grouping of subscribers, e.g. solve tasks in teams and collaborate in “private” groups during a webinar.

During a webinar usually, one trainer speaks and all participants listen. Do you organize webinars with several trainers at the same time? There are solutions that simultaneously support several trainers and allow a distribution of roles.

Tip: You may need simultaneous exhange of audio and video streams between multiple participants (or trainers and participants). Pay attention to this feature when choosing your solution.

Participants often wish to receive attendee certificates upon successful completion of a webinar. If you have many subscribers, it is convenient to have them automated by the webinar platform.

 

In the third part I cover further tasks and functions of webinar platforms.

Here you find the first blog post of this series.

 

 

Questions to the Reader

Which webinar platform requirements are important to you? Where do you see the biggest challenges?

Please leave your comments on this blog. Many Thanks.

 

Additional Information:

Workshop:
Meetings- und Webinar-Plattformen“ (German)

Webinar:
Integration von Konferenzsystemen (German)

Books:

Unified Communications Buyer’s Guide
Selecting Video Conferencing Solutions

About the Author

Ronald Schlager is an independent trainer, consultant, book author and blogger dedicated to communications technologies and their applications.

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