When people use the term webinar, they can mean a variety of things. I like to draw a very clear distinction between webcasts and webinars. As you can see in the below image, a webcast is usually a one-way flow of information. Webcasts can be attended by up to a few thousand individuals. The presenter – who is considered to be the font of all knowledge – talks about the topic of the webcast for an extended period of time, often between 50 and 75 minutes.
When attendees are invited to contribute to a webcast, it is usually in the form of a 10-15 minute Q & A session at the end of the webcast. There may be a Q & A chat feature that allows participants to comment or ask questions either throughout the webcast or at the end of the webcast. Sometimes the other attendees can see the questions and comments, but more often they are only visible to the host or the presenter. This prevents participants from building upon each other’s ideas.
Sometimes people call these type of information exchanges webinars.
In order to be clear about what I mean when I talk about webinars, I have chosen to insert the word participatory before the word webinar. This is because what I expect to happen in the online learning environment is more than a pouring of knowledge down upon attendees, it is a social learning process where the person convening the webinar builds the structure of the learning environment and then invites the participants to engage with the facilitator and each other. You can see the the idea and information flow of a participatory webinar in the graphic below.
You may have noticed that as I described webcasts I used the terms attendees and presenters [move words] and when I talked about webinars I used the terms participants and facilitators [move words]. This is not simply a distinction of semantics, it is a philosophical difference that informs every decision that is made in designing and facilitating an online learning experience.