As previously discussed, one easy way to promote learning and networking among staff is to use Skype with video (or other similar services). This works best when someone knowledgeable among the attendees can take the lead–both in setting up the call, helping other “newbies” and perhaps in setting an agenda.
Sometimes, your staff development needs may call for more formal training and development. How you do this, the cost and mechanism for delivery will vary depending upon your needs. Among your options are webinars (wikipedia has a good overview of webinars and various capabilities here) and ecourses. While the term webinar has replaced the term “web conferencing,” don’t think it’s the same thing as the early days, when it was based mostly on voice or one person “lecturing” to a bunch of attendees online. The methods available offer a rich synchronous experience. Ecourses generally are asynchronous but they can still be valuable if you choose the right instructor—who may use a variety of technologies to have a “dialog” with the participant(s)–discussion boards, email or even Skype.
Broad or Basic Topics–Look for existing resources
If your staff development needs are in line with some basic topics inherent to many industries or fields, you should do a search and see what is available. For instance, Kivi Leroux Miller is a consultant on nonprofit communications who offers a range of ecourses and webinars related to communications. Her explanation as to the difference between these modalities is here. Her offerings include an ecourse on writing a nonprofit annual report and a one-hour webinar on the same subject.
Many associations offer webinars, such as this recent one by the Foundation Center on nonprofit startups. What would be great is if they had recorded the webinar for folks to view (even if for purchase), such as what is routinely done by NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) for their webinars. Their current list of webinars is here and are generally reasonably priced for nonmembers at $50. A regional chapter of the American Society of Training and Development professionals out in the Portland Oregon area has a recording of their first “live” webinar (topic: Social Learning) on this blog page which will give you a flavor of what they are like. (I could have linked directly to the recorded webinar, but it’s worth reading the host’s blog post first).
Okay, so you need a customized topic, because you’re thinking about a statewide training on “Key Issues in Running a Hotline” or “Dealing with Children in Crisis.” Or any number of other nonprofit relevant topics. One source to use is GoToWebinar.com which has very easy, do-it-yourself tools. There are other companies offering this type of service, often through professional “resellers” who can use these platforms to create (and sometimes deliver) a customized webinar for you. The services and plans differ, depending upon how long you subscribe, how many participants you anticipate, and whether the service puts a limit on the number of webinars you can do for the time period booked. (GoToWebinar has a monthly options for $99 that includes unlimited webinars for that month, up to 1,000 participants). Services usually include a registration page.
If you are going to use a webinar vendor, here are some types of questions to ask/things to let them know:
Platforms–does if matter if participants have PC vs. Mac? What browsers does it work with? What do my particpants need (i.e. microphone, telephone, etc.)
Sharing–do we have the capability to share documents or desktops (if you need that)
Practice–will I have the capability to practice my webinar ahead of time?
Consultant or Tech Support–to what extent does the price include help setting up or tech support?
Participants–number of participants (any limit)
Timing–when’s the latest someone can sign up.
Methodology–let them know what you plan. Are you sharing a PowerPoint?
Saving/Recording–Can you record your webinar?
You might consider developing your material into a screencast–sort of a more media-rich version of a computer screen capture.
Beth Kanter has a screencasting primer for nonprofits here. Frankly, I should probably turn this series into a screencast as soon as I have a some spare time…….. LOL. Beth also has some info about web conferencing on the cheap you might want to check out.