online learningBy Scarlett Thomas

Given the exponential growth of online learning over the last decade, I’m surprised to find people who still believe that online education must be less effective than “traditional” classroom methods.

As an orthodontic consultant and online presenter, I have to say nothing could be further from the truth.

Online learning can be just as challenging—maybe even more so—than conventional classroom learning. There are also several benefits of online learning that will help you acquire valuable knowledge that you won’t get from any textbook.

5 Benefits of Online Learning

1) Convenience: Since most webinars take place over the Internet directly on your computer, there is no need to leave the office or factor in travel time. Because of this, many orthodontic offices are using webinars as a time-efficient, cost-effective method of training and delivering knowledge to their staff.

2) Affordability: Besides the fact that there are no travel costs involved, the price of attending a webinar is typically much lower than other training options. Additionally, multiple participants can train together by viewing the webinar at a single location and therefore pay for only one connection. An entire team can gather in one conference room to attend together, and discuss the webinar contents without having to invest time and money traveling to and from a physical seminar location. Because of all this, pricing per person for training by webinar tends to be much lower than many other alternatives.

3) Efficiency: Most webinars are designed to last around 60 to 90 minutes in length and are usually scheduled to fit the workday of a busy orthodontic practice. Because of their short length, webinars typically pack a lot of information into a very short period of time.

4) Long-Term Value: Many webinars offer the option to access the contents and materials again for some time after the event has ended. Because of this, participants can review the presentation multiple times, helping them revisit the materials for reference and apply the contents as needed.

5) Ease of Use: Registering for and attending webinars is usually an easy process achieved over the Internet with a standard computer browser and requires no more skill than using the average e-mail program. Most webinar applications are designed for ease-of-use and require very little additional downloading of software, if any.

Webinar delivery via the Internet enables participants to participate at home or some other nearby location, such as an Internet cafe. This promotes relaxed learning in a comfortable environment with facilities and supplemental materials close at hand. Minimal travel saves time, reducing expense, eliminating the stress of driving, and allowing more time for preparation. Thanks to recording, viewing webinar material can often be scheduled around work, family, and other demands.

Webinars can be transmitted either live or prerecorded, and participants can follow them on their PCs, Macs, tablets, or smart phones. In addition to the audio and visual components, webinars can also feature PowerPoint slides of presentations that can be synchronized with the audio and video. Live webinars can facilitate interaction with the audience, although this is less feasible with very large groups of participants. A webinar offers various interactive features, including:

  • Ask a question
  • Chat
  • Poll
  • Survey
  • Call to action
  • Twitter

As orthodontic practices increasingly look for ways to reduce their spending on travel and accommodation and extend their learning, interest in webinars continues to grow. Various studies have shown that webinars are a very effective and cost-efficient way of communicating with employees, referring doctors, and potential or existing patients. Many orthodontic practices have already discovered the benefits for themselves.

Webinar Disadvantages

While webinars definitely offer many advantages over traditional media formats, organizations that use webinars as part of their communications and learning strategy can expect to encounter some disadvantages associated with the technology.

1) Technical Difficulties: Every presenter who uses technology during a presentation runs the risk of technical difficulties that will interfere with her time at the podium. During a webinar, in which the audience views an audiovisual presentation on their computers, opportunities for technical problems are virtually limitless. Each webinar participant has a different computer with a unique operating system configuration, connection speed, Internet browser, and software applications. Practice firewalls can block the connection to the webinar and prevent participants from downloading information. Participants might become annoyed and frustrated with these issues and may disconnect from the online meeting—literally or mentally. However, an experienced webinar presenter will have these issues resolved with each participant a few days in advance, allowing for a perfect online meeting.

2) Body Language: Body language is missing from virtually every webinar. In a typical webinar, the viewer never sees the presenter. The presenter provides a voice-over while a facilitator transmits his deck of slides onto the viewer’s computer screen. The audience misses important nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions, that add context and interest to the experience. In a live setting, these subtleties help a speaker establish credibility with the audience. A live audience knows that a dramatic pause is meant to build suspense, while a webinar audience that hears the speaker stop talking may think she lost her place or accidentally hit the “mute” button.

3) Environmental Control: In a live setting, the presenter can often control lighting and seating and help ensure that distractions are removed from the environment where a seminar takes place. The presence of others in the room helps focus attention on the speaker, as peer pressure among the audience discourages side conversations and disruptions. By contrast, during a webinar, the presenter has virtually no control over the audience’s environment. Attendees at a webinar can be at home, in the office, or in a coffee shop. With a muted phone line, a webinar “participant” can check his e-mail, do other work, or surf the Internet. The presenter’s absence can make it harder for participants to learn.

4) Audience Interaction: A live seminar can be a dynamic, interactive experience. Audience members can meet new people and form valuable new relationships during breaks in the action. A live presenter can utilize small group exercises to engage their audience and help drive home their message. A webinar offers virtually no opportunity for the kind of experiential learning that a group can achieve by being together in one place. Webinar participants don’t know the size of the audience or whether their colleagues or competitors are among the online listeners. Some webinars try to add interactivity by polling the audience about key issues and displaying poll results on the viewers’ screen. However, online graphs of poll results are a poor substitute for an in-room speaker asking for a show of hands. However, experienced presenters know the importance of this and will limit their audience so that the lines of communication can be opened to provide valued interaction among offices.

Despite these disadvantages, webinars are still an attractive and beneficial learning option. Whatever your requirements may be, webinars and online learning present a very affordable and highly effective way of delivering training. Additionally, online learning can present a vast array of topics and opportunities to address key business topics and issues that can spark new ideas, focus discussion, and drive action in your practice. OP

OPMag ScarlettThomas Scarlett Thomas has 23 years of experience in practice management consulting and marketing. Her one-on-one orthodontic consulting programs and training workshops have been designed to transform orthodontic practices and deliver real results. Thomas focuses on individual growth and development opportunities, having trained hundreds of orthodontists to achieve extraordinary levels of performance and to take their practices to the next level. You can find further information about the services Thomas offers by visiting