To Webinar or Not is the Question: ‘Ritual’ and ‘Repivoting’ in the Pandemic

How have we processed the webinar experience? PC: Simon Abrams, Source: Unsplash

Apart from Internet bandwidth slumps during the peak hours of the day, the cognitive WFH elite has transitioned to the online realm without breaking in to a sweat. Stuck at home, office floors are mapped online, and water cooler talk moved to slack chat panels. For knowledge-based work to happen, Wi-Fi or Broadband is a pre-requisite, which is present only in 5% of Indian households. However, given India’s mammoth population, this size of target audience is large enough.

Online learning has been lurking on the landscape for a decade now. However, the pandemic has turbocharged the acceleration towards digitization and brought timelines forward by a decade. India’s large consumer base can make EdTech a key growth segment post the pandemic and we can anticipate a few funding rounds as well as unicorn valuations.

A globally synchronised crisis has led the cognitive worker class to consume educational material through MOOCs or Webinars in an exponential fashion. These online events help to either kill time or to learn new ideas, if not skills, as a coping mechanism in the post-pandemic economy.

The fear of job loss has driven many to enrol for multiple MOOCs without completing them necessarily. A much lesser fraction of committed individuals completes the MOOC with a certificate to patch on its LinkedIn or Facebook profiles. This is an act of social signalling (almost a badge of honour) to their boss and the target audience of recruiters, that they are on the cognitive treadmill, already reskilling.

As a voracious consumer of learning products up to one webinar a day, I find learning from the best minds in the business a delicious proposition. Webinars are a good space to access thinking in terms of concepts and a dialogic arena for sparring and argumentation. However, the extent of transmission between ideas to real ‘on the job’ skills is a totally different paradigm. Skilling is a verb, and there is no active or service-learning taking place in a webinar. May we be expecting too much out of the online realm itself?

Webinars are an excellent instrument to create global but targeted communities of practice, with the right dose of imagination. The pandemic has curated response forums in various spheres, from entrepreneurship to media to academia, which have warmed up to the idea of migrating to the digital as a much-needed policy practice, rather than a theoretical construct.

There are specialised topics which in a pre-pandemic context would have needed large conference budgets to fly in speakers and house them for a two-day session with a conference dinner as a networking anchor. Now policy and media collectives such as The Tilak Chronicle (the platform on which this article is hosted) which has a focused research programme on Baluchistan has organised a webinar with an all-star line-up at the end of this month.

Specialised spaces such as webinars are voice architectures for topics which do not get through gated mainstream media conversations. As the topic of Balochistan infiltrated Indian news feeds, how many people in the non-academic world had the opportunity to learn about it?

Many corporates are employing the webinar playbook to accelerate learning about health, safety, and mental health in their companies. It takes the message home better than an email blast at the end of the day. Corporate learning is on the uptake in an organic manner; material which was earlier considered as compulsory and a tick in the box now crosses off as a ‘normal’ in these semi-normal/post-normal/new-normal times. A fast-moving global pause calls for a basket of terms to grasp the slippery times we reside in.

The Experience of the Webinar

The mechanics of the webinar experience has been addressed in a limited manner during the pandemic. How have we processed this experience? Do we engage with the format with a paper and pen, and jot down notes? Or are we scribbling our thoughts in a personal blog for sharing with our peers? The shareability of the webinar experience through live tweeting is a key facet of the practice itself.

The choice of the background on the webinar screen becomes strategic when one shares a room with a family member or a friend. The functional aspects of the online learning experience are dependent on data speeds and data pack costs. Low bandwidth environment especially depletes the connect as the video must be turn off to maintain the connection. Sans the eye connect, the community feel is incomplete. 

Tech companies should work further to build efficient video conferencing software for people lacking access to good broadband connectivity, and for those who have to share one connection with multiple users in the family, as if contributing towards a mutual fund. Online learning will ‘zoom’ if inclusive tech is developed to bridge the neo-digital divide, providing better Internet speeds and, for the better off, non-buffering connectivity. 

Certifying the Learning

A hidden transcript of the social value of learning is in the validation. It lies in the legitimacy of the certificate earned upon learning a module through participating in the webinar, which can be added as a bullet point on a resume or a job portal profile.

To ramp up the utilitarian value of the online learning experience, we must include some aspect of action learning in the course. The webinar on Balochistan, for example, should be preceded by a reading list. It should create an opportunity to write a short note which would contribute to an e-book. This would enhance the learning curve for the participants, and the hosts of the programme would have a touch point to continue the conversation beyond the event. It is encouraging that the pandemic has ignited a movement towards life-long learning. The humble webinar’s potential for imaginative community building is enormous, definitely more than what meets the eye.

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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