Webinar Platforms – Basic Must-Haves!

It’s a fantastic feeling to face a big group of interested learners.  I guess because it was the start of my career, I don’t do it nearly as often now, but being a facilitator is a bit of a rush for me. Walking around a room, marker in hand, as I go on about something or other was my version of being on stage.

Going from post-secondary to corporate however, the learner’s logistics certainly change.  New elements need to be considered. Time available, other priorities, distance to session, parking costs, etc, etc.  Add to this growing technology (plus decreasing costs!) and a greater understanding in learning for less traditional approaches, and the webinar was born.

Fast forward, add social media, mobile infrastructure and devices and a greater basic understanding of technology and you have a pretty neat opportunity.  Your avenue to getting your message out there is easier than ever!  Interactive micro learning (1 hour, 30 minute, 5 minute) sessions can be greatly impactful to direct tool usage, support a customer, pitch a product/service, warm up a relationship is powerful and cheap!

But there are a ton of tools out there?  What to look for?

I narrowed down, for my needs, the top elements that brought the most impact to the table.

Sharing:  

This one is the no brainer.  It’s the basis of pretty much any tool out there.  But for me, sharing a powerpoint is just the beginning.  A tool needs to be able to show your desktop (and select which monitor), pick specific applications, allow me to upload files (any media, not just powerpoint!) so viewers can see them and show videos clearly.

Fuze and Adobe Connect did a fantastic job of videos.  Not streamed, but uploaded the looked great.  Webex felt clunky and choppy for videos, but shared most anything, was most versatile and was my fave on app sharing.

Audio Conference:

They all did it.  But with a tremendous variant of approaches.  They all could do the traditional VOIP using speaker/microphone or headset.  I didn’t see a tremendous difference between them, most of the issues/successes were on my side with quality of equipment, connection, etc.

Toll free, some like Webex and Fuze has it integrated, but with a wide difference in cost (Webex was .15/person/minute, Fuze was .06).  Adobe connect didn’t have it in the barebones package (you had to add another provider).  This one isn’t a huge issue due to VOIP, but it’s dependant on connection/equipment quality.  Fuze has an AMAZING feature where they’ve integrated Skype.  You can dial in from anywhere using skype to their skype line which will connect you.  Very neat.

Camera:

Nowadays, since it’s so cheap and everyone is getting a webcam or has a device with a camera, it’s a no brainer.  Give your learners the chance to see you (and you them!).  It makes it more personal, and helps keep them engaged.

Most of these tools did this.  Fuze has full HD capability (GoToMeeting has this in a beta).  HD is cool, but for me, alot of folks won’t have a super fast connection, so I wasn’t too concerned.  They all allowed multiple feeds.

Recording:

If you are going to the trouble of hosting a session, for the love of god record and keep it.  Why wouldn’t you? You have everything to gain (reuse, provide offline/intranet, refreshers, learn from errors/issues, IP, etc) and nothing to lose.

One IMPORTANT question to ask.  Can you download the file locally.  Some tools this is not an option (Fuze for example, you own the files, but they won’t provide to you.  They host and provide links only).  With Webex, you get the file as soon as you close the meeting, but you need their proprietary free viewer to watch it.  Adobe Connect Pro, you can now (yay!) get your file, but you need to actually re-watch the whole damn seminar across the net, and their tool will record it for you locally in flash format (not while the session is going on??)  I think it’s a crazy waste of my time.

Polls:

There are tons of great learning tools in many of these services, but this one is of of the biggest ROIs. Poll at the start on the topics to be presented allows you to gauge how deep to go, Polls allow you to engage a large group, without dealing with voice/chat conflict or floods, Polls allow you to gather information on each respondent (name, answer, etc) to get market info on them.  Most had it, Fuze did not.

Mobile Access:

1999 is gone.  Don’t force your learners to sit in their boring cubes, to find an internet cafe (are these even still around??) or have to lock their dogs in the bathroom.  A participant should have full capability to watch, listen and participate in a webinar from a laptop, tablet (Android, PlayBook, iPad) or smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android).

Webex did a passable job, nice integration of voice, great experience for camera feeds and navigation.  Terrible on streamed videos (movies, clips etc).  Tablets show video, smartphones, just presentations and voice.

Fuze has a beautiful video/camera experience.  I really liked it.  No polling (obviously).

Adobe Connect Pro – Pain in the butt to access the meeting (had to type in the URL, not meeting number or something easy),  hard time getting camera to stream to it, many presentation files not recognized.

InstantPresenter, not yet, coming.

Elluminate, only mobile access is to play back recordings after the fact.


Cost:

Webex was the best value, 25 people, full features for 49/month for unlimited usage.
Fuze was pricey, 70/month, if you wanted video and full features, but those features were limited.
Adobe Connect  about the same as webex at 49/month.
GotoWebinar was pricey at 100/month, but you got gotomeeting as a bonus (15 people max)

 

Personally, for features and value, I went with WebEx.  It has the best all around feature support.  Some of the others were sexy and slick, or optimized in one area or another, but there was a loss of some functionality that I liked.

Interestingly, there is a service called AnyMeeting, which is absolutely free but includes ads.  Up to 200 people, video, sharing, recording, voip, polling, and lots more.  How can you beat that?  Not for profits, you have no excuse!

 

With the features above, you can put together a great, dynamic learning OR a really robust remote meeting in a snap!

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About Andrew Ambrose
I am passionate about the learning longtail for formal and informal learning solutions, leveraging social media and networking technology for learning projects, innovation through mLearning, collaborative learning and applying solutions that fit within the learners personal learning environment.

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