Newsletter February 2009 Putting Webinars to Work in Law Enforcement and Public Safety
By James P. Cavanagh, Knowledge Transfer Agent The Law Enforcement And Public Safety Channel – LEAPS.TV [email protected]
What is a “webinar”? Many say webinar is short for “web seminar” but that
may not help much in understanding what a webinar
actually is. Ignoring all the hype and claims that
webinars are the newest, zippiest and coolest next-
generation applications available on the Internet
today let’s simply say that webinars represent the
next evolutionary step in “distance learning”.
Webinars are similar to distance learning in many respects but differ in some important ways. The following table summarizes the key points.
Top 10 Webinar Questions and Answers
Q:I can view webinars at work but can I watch them at home, too? A: Maybe. Some agency or organizational webinars are private, secure sessions and may only be watched within the secure walls of the agency. If you have the proper software, network access and security clearances some secure webinars can be accessed from “outside” via virtual private networks (VPNs). Most webinars, however, are not so secret or sensitive and may be accessed from any PC connected to the Internet anywhere in the world, including both office and home. Q:Aren’t webinars just a different kind of sales pitch? A: No, not necessarily. It may seem this way because many webinars are used by companies to do product demonstrations and sales pitches but webinars can vary as widely in format and content as television shows. Just because there are 60 minute infomercials about everything from investment systems to healthy juice extractors does not in any way diminish the value of the excellent programs on CNN, The Weather Channel or The History Channel. Good advice in this case is “do not confuse the medium and the message”. Q:Are webinars a good way to get free training? A: Yes, but it is critical that the webinar be evaluated to assure that the program is of value to the person or persons who will be investing their time in watching it. Webinars are no different than any other training in this regard though it doesn’t seem as important, and may not actually be as important, because webinars rarely involve travel and rarely exceed an hour in length so the risk is lower and, of course, you can always turn them off if they don’t provide what you need. The first thing to consider is the content itself, either in the form of an outline or abstract. After checking the suitability of the content another consideration is the motivation of the organization providing the webinar. The biggest companies with the most aggressive sales people often provide information rich and engaging webinars on topics of current interest, often featuring their own subject matter experts who are world-class specialists, as a way of giving something back to the community. Webinars should not be dismissed out-of-hand because they originate from a commercial enterprise. At the other end of the spectrum webinars should not be accepted without further investigation simply because they are presented by associations or non-profit organizations: often those groups are selling something, too. The key is to completely investigate each webinar offering for its suitability and value. Q:How much money can I save with training webinars? A: The quick answer is “a lot”. If you are fortunate enough to be able to get free webinars that meet your training needs then the only investment is the time of the persons watching the webinar and the cost of the system needed to deliver the webinar. These system costs are inconsequential because you already own these assets and are simply applying them to a different use. Even if you pay for webinars consider this math: many agencies pay $4,000 per day or more for a trainer to come to their locations to do training. Let’s compare the cost with a $200 webinar. If we consider a department with 20 persons to train the cost per person for the $4,000 seminar is $200 while the cost per person for the webinar is $10. Also, a webinar is usually delivered in one hour pieces while a seminar requires a full day that means the webinar can often be integrated into the schedule more easily and, therefore, not require overtime to get everyone into the seminar room.
Another consideration is the cost of sending one or more persons out to training at another location. In this case each individual has travel expenses in addition to the training cost. This must be factored into a cost savings calculation. The results are even more profound on a training cost per person basis than if an outside trainer is brought in-house. If, for instance, the training were $200 per day per person, plus an average cost of $150 per travel day, the cost per person for going to outside training would be $350 versus the $10 cost per person of the webinar except for the fact that a webinar is one hour whereas a training day usually contains 6 ½ hours of training, so to make the comparison fair it would cost $54 per hour for the outside training versus $10 per hour for the webinar.
Q:What is the difference between a webinar that is “live” and one that is “archived”? A: A “live” webinar means that a person is watching the webinar at the same time that the webinar is being presented. An archived webinar is one that was delivered live at some earlier time and was recorded. The good news about the live webinar is that in most cases viewers can ask questions of the presenter or presenters, either by voice or by typing the question or message, into a special chat window. The presenter can take polls and get live feedback from viewers, and multiple participants can interact. The good news about archived webinars is that they may be viewed at any time and in any place even though they are not live though questions often can be sent via email to the presenter and answered later, not in real time. Q:Can I use webinars myself, internally, in my agency? If so, how? A: Yes, you can. You can use webinars to present information, either formally with prepared PowerPoint slides or informally, for instance, sharing an application that
webinar systems available. The top three
(www.ilinc.com). Flat rate monthly plans as
reputation, cost and capabilities of the
other product or service choice and the three providers listed are only a starting point. There are several dozen providers in the marketplace.
Q:Can you describe the webinar process start to finish? A: The process of creating and delivering your own webinar is a bit too complex to describe here but the process of choosing and using someone else’s webinar is very simple. The first step is to find a webinar, either through a search engine, word of mouth or email announcement. After you have determined the suitability of the webinar and chosen to use it, register for the webinar and, if appropriate, pay for it. After registering you will receive an email with instructions on how to join the webinar. In many cases the registration email will include instructions on how to test your systems for compatibility and, if appropriate, how to download any special software you might need. If these instructions are not provided check the webinar service provider’s web site or call the help number. It is best to check the system out prior to the day of the webinar. On the day of the webinar get online 10 to 15 minutes early, check both the audio and video and prepare to enjoy the knowledge transfer process in which you are about to embark. Q:What is the single best use of webinars in law enforcement and public safety? A: There is no single “best use”, per se, but the best category, or type, of use is to put people in touch with sources of knowledge that might be difficult or too expensive to make available using any other medium. Put your 911 dispatchers directly in touch with the designer of the CAD system to provide feedback on design, usability or desirable new features. Let your agency attorney or District Attorney directly brief your patrol officers to advise them on policy regarding certain types of traffic stops or new legislation. Put together an ad hoc ‘all hands meeting’ to discuss the status of wild fires that are blazing out of control. Have your radio systems manufacturer brief emergency personnel on new radio capabilities. The list goes on and on. Q:How can my agency or organization get the most out of webinars? A: Like any training, webinars are best used as a part of a comprehensive, ongoing training program with someone responsible for vetting the webinar, matching the webinar content to the audience, prepping the attendees, scheduling persons for the webinar and following up. By reading some preparatory material, ranging from articles and book chapters to agency policy and procedure manuals, the webinar attendee can get the most from the learning experience. Webinars can be scheduled for groups of persons, pairs of persons or individuals but the process is the same: choose, schedule, follow-up. One additional element can be added: assessment. If you use pre and/or post tests with your current training, why not do this with webinars? Also, consider webinars, instead of other, less productive activities, for traditional down-time like at shift changes or extended breaks?
Q: How can I judge the success of my webinar program? A: One success criteria is cost per training hour per person. More people in shared webinars will drive that cost down. Like any other training there are performance metrics that can be applied to determine the effectiveness of the training, Measurements of performance such as on-site response times, reduced number of bystander shootings, increase in suspects apprehended, criminals prosecuted and any other metric can be used to judge the success of the webinar program. Conclusion Webinars are an important tool for knowledge transfer, in law enforcement and public safety or any other area, for that matter. Webinars may be one-way “brain dumps” or may involve interaction and collaboration between multiple parties in two or more locations. Webinars are cost effective and compliment, rather than replace, direct human interactions such as formal training, meetings and conferences. Webinars are a required tool of modern law enforcement and public safety. If you have not been using webinars at all, or have not been getting the full benefits, start today. Schedule a webinar for your group to watch or set up your own webinar to open up the lines of communications and facilitate the transfer of knowledge by and between your people. About the Author
The author, James P. Cavanagh, is a Knowledge Transfer Agent and
subject matter expert who has delivered dozens of webinars himself,
ranging from Voice over IP for call takers to the technical aspects of
legal and regulatory issues to Internet security and policy. Jim is
spending more of his time these days facilitating the transfer of other
people’s expert knowledge via the Law Enforcement And Public Safety
Channel (www.leaps.tv), a web-based knowledge conduit just for law enforcement and public safety. Jim may be reached at [email protected] or +1.770.984.5800.
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