Webcasting would seem to be the ultimate panacea for busy professionals in need of continuing education. With the click of a mouse, one could attend a seminar anywhere in the world, interacting with experts and other attendees. The next best thing to being there in person–right?
Many professional associations offer webcasting–live teleconferences broadcast over the Internet–for their members’ continuing education. In particular, organizations with members scattered across the globe have a need for the service. Some associations, however, believe that webcasting is not financial viable. The technology is costly. Besides, how many members will actually use the service? Is it worth the expense?
The Pros and Cons
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says no. Based in Alexandria, VA, the non-profit serves over 800 communities in 50 states and the District of Columbia. The ADA looked into webcasting, but decided not to use the technology. “It’s just too expensive,” says company spokesperson Brook Seitz. “We prefer to spend our money on research.”
Few question the virtues of webcasting–global connectivity, personal convenience–but the technology must become more cost effective.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came to a similar conclusion when it considered providing a class for 330,000 members online. A spokesperson for the New York-based group said the idea was shelved for the time being for budgetary reasons.
The Virginia-based Association for Investment Management and Research (AIMR) began offering live video webcasts in April 2008. Since then, the organization–whose 45,000 members include stock analysts,managers, and other investment professionals in over 100 countries–has been moving more towards video-on-demand. Typically, AIMR records sessions from association conferences and makes the videos available on their Web site. At times, however, the group will use webcasting to cover a topic that does not warrant an entire conference. For special sessions, AIMR may also offer a live audio stream.
AIMR says response has been very positive from those members who use the service. “The evaluations are on par with those from conferences, and some times even higher,” says Elizabeth Turrisi, vice president of education technology. So far, a few thousand members (from more than 40 countries) have registered for the service.
But until the cost of webcasting comes down, AIMR will rely more on video-on-demand. AIMR has its own producer, and can provide much of its audio/visual educational content in-house. “The only thing we don’t do in house is hosting, so our costs have dropped dramatically,” says Turrisi.
One professional association not limited by the cost of webcasting is the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, DC. “Cost hasn’t been an impediment to us or our members,” says ABA spokesperson Nancy Slonim. The organization has been using webcasting for three and a half years as part of a continuing legal education program. The ABA says several thousand of its over 400,000 members have used the service. It appeals to those with chaotic schedules–and to passive members who don’t typically travel to ABA events.
ABA’s online program covers fundamental, practical legal issues: litigation techniques, courtroom strategies, and the basics of commercial leasing. Most program faculty are specialists in their fields. Slonim cites the Internet’s ability to reach members around the globe as one of its greatest assets. Last year, the London portion of the ABA annual meeting was delivered via webcast. “It makes the material available to people overseas,” says Slonim, and thus “economically feasible.” ABA members from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and even Singapore have participated in theprogram.
Yet, despite theof webcasting worldwide, the ABA has run into a snag at home. In the United States, the legal profession is regulated at the state level. There are 40 states that have mandatory legal education requirements–some accept webcast classes, some do not. Why? “Perhaps they’re looking for more interactive qualities,” says Slonim. The ABA is always looking for ways to expand an already robust online education effort.
The Price of Success?
For many organizations, however, there is no getting around the expense. Few question the virtues of webcasting–global connectivity, personal convenience–but the technology must become more cost effective. Otherwise, only the privileged few will take advantage of this twenty-first century learning tool.