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The Differences BetweenWebinars, E-Learning, and Virtual Training

By Joane Ramsey

Webinars, E-Learning, and Virtual Training are often used interchangeably but the goals they achieve are not the same. In Episode 29 of the Strategic Insights Podcast, Joane Ramsey, Rick Van Natta, and Bo Smith define the best use cases for each of the 3 remote learning methods based on your desired outcome.

Joane Ramsey: 00:01 Hello, and welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast, brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm Joane Ramsey, Senior Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm joined here today by Rick Van Natta, Senior Consultant and Facilitator, and Bo Smith, Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. Welcome gentlemen.

Rick Van Natta: 00:24 Thank you.

Bo Smith: 00:25 Thanks for having us.

Joane Ramsey: 00:26 Today we're going to be discussing the differences among the three remote learning options that are often used interchangeably; webinars, e-learning, and virtual training. These are terms that are used more than ever before, and what I found in my work with clients these past few months is that people get easily confused on what they are, what they can accomplish in terms of their outcomes, and the investments associated with each of them. I hope that our conversation today will help our listeners gain a better understanding on how each of these remote learning options can help them, and in which situations they work best. Bo, I would like to walk us through and provide our listeners with our definition of e-learning, webinars, and virtual training. How about if you get us started with webinars?

Bo Smith: 01:18 Sounds good, Joane. You are so right about the confusion out there. I understand, and I can relate because I'm fairly new here and I've been confused too. You've heard me kid around that I'm kind of the poster child on this topic. But you've helped me Joane. So now let me try to help our listeners.

The key is what do you want to accomplish? Let's start with a webinar. Webinars are a good way to transfer information in a format that feels more personable. The keywords here are transfer of information. That's what you get from a webinar. The idea is that people who are geographically remote from each other can link together in a platform that allows them to visually share slides, take polls, answer some basic questions, and in some cases allow for chat. Many companies are using webinars as a source for marketing efforts to generate qualified leads.

Webinars are also used to create awareness about a product, a new launch, to announce changes or news about an organization. They typically have a presenter who's sharing slides and talking through them, providing the audience with the information they need to transfer. Most webinars are not highly interactive, and that's a really important point. Webinars can hold large audiences and that's typically what they aim for. They're only limited in size by whatever license or software platform they may be using. In terms of investment, they're fairly inexpensive to run. So a webinar can be a good way to transfer information and create awareness.

Joane Ramsey: 03:02 You make such great points, Bo. Webinars are useful and have their place for sure. But they are best used for creating awareness and transferring information. In terms of how we think of training to create behavior change, webinars are not the most efficient since they don't provide the kind of interaction needed for that to occur. Which brings us to e-learning. Rick, how about if you walk us through e-learning, what it is, how it's best utilized, what kinds of skill sets it covers, and the costs associated with?

Rick Van Natta: 03:35 Yes. Thanks, Joane. Happy to do that. E-learning utilizes electronic technologies to access an educational curriculum outside of traditional classroom. In most cases, it refers to the course program or degree that's delivered completely online. Successful e-learning is highly dependent on the self-motivation of the participant to study effectively. That's really a key point, it requires that self-motivation. It's key for the organization to understand their people.

E-learning has become very sophisticated by offering effective instructional methods, such as practicing with associated feedback, combining collaboration activities with self-paced study, personalized learning paths based on a learner's needs, and using simulations and games. It's a cost effective way to reach a wider audience for people who may have difficulty attending conventional classrooms in training due to being geographically dispersed, a limited time or resources to travel, they may be busy with work or family commitments which don't allow them to attend courses on specific dates within a fixed schedule.

Sometimes the people may be facing difficulties with real-time communication, such as foreign language learners or shy learners. It's important to point out though that most e-learning courses are developed to build cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are focused on acquiring knowledge and being able to comprehend it, following the instructions as well as applying methods in these situations to solve problems, focusing on thinking or mental skills. This leaves out the development of interpersonal skills like listening, reading nonverbal cues, negotiating, and presenting. It also leaves out the whole area of psychomotor skills, which is the acquisition of physical perception and movement.

In terms of the investment, e-learning is cost-effective in the long run if you consider reaching large audiences, but you need to have the technical infrastructure in place to be able to deliver it, and that can be costly upfront. We can conduct a whole other podcast on the hidden cost of e-learning. To summarize, e-learning is good for transfer of knowledge. It requires a self-motivated audience, and it can reach large audiences in a relatively cost-effective way. You just need to make sure you're working with an organization that has a good track record of building and delivering e-learning.

Joane Ramsey: 06:02 Thanks, Rick. You made some really good points regarding e-learning, which brings me to our last remote learning option, virtual training. I found in the last few months that clients tend to confuse virtual training with webinars. I think because they both can use the same software platforms to be delivered, but there is a vast difference between the two. Rick, could you walk us through what virtual training looks like when it's done right?

Rick Van Natta: 06:29 Absolutely, and you're right, they are very similar. The difference really comes back to classroom size and how it's approached. Let me talk about that for just a minute. Virtual training really refers to training done in a virtual or simulated environment where the learner and instructor are in separate locations. The key point with virtual training is that it's actual training aimed to help participants come out of the virtual classrooms with skills that will help them behave differently when they go back to their jobs. Virtual training is very interactive. People don't realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to put together a good virtual session. In order to ensure that virtual training is successful and the participants are engaged, we run sessions that are no more than 90 minutes long because we know that after 90 minutes in a virtual environment, participants will disengage.

The medium used to keep their attention span changes every five to 10 minutes. We go from interactive discussions, to watching a video, to break out rooms for role-plays, et cetera. The classes are small with a maximum of no more than 16 participants. You're trying to ensure that the virtual classroom experience comes as close to the face to face experience as possible. Virtual training is highly effective for companies that are serious about helping their employees become better performers because it aims at helping change behavior instead of just creating awareness of transfer knowledge. It builds skills over time, allowing a learner to acquire knowledge to put into practice in a safe environment and then go out and practice in the field before coming back again, and sharing their experiences, and gaining more knowledge and coaching on how to become better at what they're trying to improve.

The investment for virtual training is more substantial than for a simple webinar, given the fact that it involves a facilitator who's experienced in conducting virtual training, being capable of facilitating a session instead of lecturing to the participants. People don't realize that for every hour of in-classroom training, three hours of preparation time are required to teach in the virtual setting. Whether it's preparing slides, adjusting the number of videos to be played, or deciding on how best to deliver the role-plays depending on the dynamic of the group you're working with.

It's also not a onetime session. Most virtual training requires learning to be done over a period of time in order to achieve results. For instance, a three-day classroom experience may translate into six 90-minute sessions with additional coaching at the back end. In my experience, virtual training can be highly effective when we work with organizations that are truly committed to helping people improve their skills.

Joane Ramsey: 09:13 Thanks, Rick. That is very insightful. I think that the important message here is that before organizations set out on any path for remote learning, they need to start by asking themselves the real question behind all of this, which is, "What are the outcomes you want from any remote training you may be delivering?"

When we work with our clients we always start by trying to understand their current situation and the gaps between where they are and where they need to be. Once we are clear on the outcomes needed to bridge this gap, that is when we start outlining what the virtual training may look like. Sometimes it's a combination of all three remote learning options.

To summarize, webinars are good to reach large audiences and transfer information or create awareness. E-learning is good for knowledge transfer, focusing mostly on delivering cognitive skills when reaching large audiences in a cost-effective way. Virtual training is best for helping develop skills to create behavior changes on the job, focusing on smaller groups where one-on-one coaching can take place. Virtual training requires more time and effort to prepare and deliver, but considering the gains from behavior change, you will have a higher return on your investment. We hope that we were able to help you better understand the differences among these three remote learning options. Thanks, Rick and Bo for being here today.

Rick Van Natta: 10:41 Thank you for having me, Joane.

Bo Smith: 10:43 Joane, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Joane Ramsey: 10:45 Until next time, if you have any questions or thoughts, please visit us at

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Published: July 31, 2020

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Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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