aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Can You Learn from a Recording?

Posted by Ellen on April 13, 2010

We make recordings all the time: podcasts, recorded audio conferences, recorded Webinars. We make them available to our members via our Web sites and from other Web sources, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee.

We make them available because we can. Oh, yeah — and because our members ask for them.

But should we?

Do people learn from them? Well, they must or they wouldn’t want them, right?

Let’s look at this another way… Do you read books? What kind? Wait — that doesn’t really matter. Have you learned anything from the books you’ve read? Textbooks? How-tos? Cookbooks? Travel guides? Novels?

I’ve learned from all of these different types of books, and I’ll go out on a limb here and say that you have, too.

And how about those magazine articles? White papers? Case studies?

Did they include fun quizzes or puzzles to help me check my comprehension of my reading? No.

Did I log into an online forum to record my thoughts about the book and read those others posted? No.

Did I call the author and ask a lot of questions to make sure I understood what he or she was getting at? No.

Did that mean I didn’t learn something? No.

I learned anyway. I learned from the nonfiction books and articles because I engaged myself in the process of turning those words and ideas over in my mind, making some notes sometimes, and thinking of ways I could transform what I was reading into reality.

The things I learned from novels came to me more serendipitously — a story set in Rome can help me understand the local culture… a character’s job in the hotel business can teach me something about what it takes to succeed in the hospitality industry… I see myself in the relationships that unfold on the page, and gain insight into my own foibles by walking in someone else’s shoes.

These aren’t “active” learning situations, at least not as we have been defining the term, though we are actively engaging our brain to process what we’re reading. 

So… having said that…

Can someone learn from a recorded Webinar, even though it’s passive rather than active? Yes, they can.

So Why Offer the Live Session? Why Not Go Straight to the Recording?

Recognizing the reasons people register for live sessions and why they opt for a recording is important here — because the reasons are different.

Some Reasons for Attending a Live Webinar

  • As I mentioned in comments to an earlier post, sometimes the power of a live Webinar comes from the impact it can have on a group. If your members are institutions and the topic will appeal to a group of employees within that institution, a live Webinar can give that team the opportunity to attend together to process the content relative to their own objectives and needs.


  • Sometimes a presenter’s expertise draws an individual to register because that expert is seen as having ideas or answers to a particular challenge or question. Even if the presentation doesn’t address the need, the attendee has the opportunity to ask that question or pose the issue during the Q&A session — something they wouldn’t be able to do with a recording.


  • While it doesn’t make sense on the surface to register for a Webinar when you believe you know the content, vendor representatives, consultants, and others will sometimes attend to hear what’s being said, what’s being asked, and to find out who’s registered. This gives them valuable information: are there gaps they can fill in the topic? What are the issues current or potential customers have around the topic? Are any of those questions coming from current customers? Prospects? Although they could get this from a recording, the live session gives them the opportunity to chime in via the chat option, and is more immediate for reaching out offline than waiting for the recording would allow.


  • Another reason people register for a live session is because they know it’s the one way they’ll commit the time to it. Saying, “I’ll wait for the recording” is a two-fold risk: one, will there be a recording? and two: will they actually take the time to view the recording once it’s available, or will they procrastinate watching it until it’s no longer available or important?

Some Reasons for Watching a Webinar Recording

  • Probably the biggest reason is that the content is intriguing or important, but not more important that other things that conflict — maybe someone is on the road and can’t access the live session. Maybe the live session will be held at the same time as an important meeting.


  • Sometimes people prefer the recordings — especially on topics they already feel familiar with – because they want to be able to fast-forward (when the option is available) to the subtopics that most interest them.

Is this a bad thing? Not if we believe that the learner should decide what’s important to know and should be able to easily zero in on that content.

The Bottom Line:

1. Organize and design the Webinar for the best learning it can deliver.

2. Plan to record the session and offer it afterwards.

3. Make it easy to access various pieces of the Webinar — via a fast-forward option or a menu — knowing that learners will take that they want and leave the rest.

Yes, active learning is the best way to learn.

And yes, a well-designed Webinar can deliver passive learning that’s still effective.

If not, we should ditch every textbook, cookbook, travel guide, how-to manual, instruction sheet, and a bunch of other resources we learn from every day, even when they don’t have quizzes; live chat; branching, matching, drag-and-drop and other interactions, or other activities.

Shouldn’t we?

2 Responses to “Can You Learn from a Recording?”

  1. Amin Marts said

    Ellen gets it! I’d like to add that where I’ve seen the wheels come off is with follow-up. On average, an audience will retain approximately 25% of the material presented on the first pass. This makes it imperative to bolster the initial experience with supportive information and activities. The purpose of which is to reinforce the points initially communicated.

    Using the live webinar as an example. Offering it as a recording is essential, easy to do and in some cases can tie into marketing communications and activities. In my experience taking it one step further by making available the supportive slides as well as supportive documentation (i.e white-papers, case studies, guides, etc.) helps in driving the outlined points home for the audience.

  2. Ellen said

    Amin — I completely agree that supporting learning via follow-up is essential. I’ve seen facilitators send monthly e-mail notes with a simple question based on an objective to the attendees garner lots of reponses and e-mail discussion as a result.

    I’ve also used followup evaluations as ways to remind learners of the objectives and give them a chance to reflect — via a brief response — how they have been able to apply various learning outcomes. These serve several purposes, including reinforcement.

    Unfortunately, so many education leaders are overburdened by busy event schedules that it’s very difficult to make the time to do the followup. In our busy season, we had up to ten events (that might attract 400+ attendees and involve nearly 200 volunteers and sponsors) — all within six months. As soon as they were over, we were planning the other two or three events of the year, plus organizing and holding online learning offerings, and getting a jump-start on the starting the cycle all over again. Two of us handled all of these events.

    So follow-up was the first thing to fall by the wayside, unfortunately.

    We can know what we ought to be doing, but that doesn’t mean we can accomplish getting it done.

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