Dave UlrichGuest Author

Overcoming Webinar Fatigue: How to Do Successful Virtual Learning

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

by Radek Czahajda, Adult Learning Researcher, Kozminski University, Evidence-Based Trainer, radek@czahajda.pl and Dave Ulrich Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Partner, The RBL Group, dou@umich.edu

How much you have had to learn both professionally and personally in the last two years? The half-life of knowledge (when 50 percent is out of date) has rapidly accelerated!

Knowledge is not only about what you learn but how. Without a doubt, a lot of learning comes from experiences, and everyone is learning how to navigate work and personal lives in the current uncertain world conditions. But learning also comes from work investments in training and development that provide new insights, examples, and tools for how to reinvent work.

Virtual learning through whatever platform (Zoom, Teams, Skype, Vimeo, Livestorm, Webex, Clickmeeting, Hopin, Aventri, Vevy, GoToWebinar, WebinarJam, Bigmarker, Convene, and others) has dominated learning processes even more in the last few years. Webinars, podcasts, and virtual learning will likely remain an important medium for development as only 8 percent of companies plan to return fully to face-to-face classroom experiences. So how can we keep online learning relevant and effective?

Based on our collective experience of designing and delivering over 300 webinars and culling the research on virtual learning, let us share the challenges, opportunities, and actions for making the most of your virtual learning engagements.

Challenges of Virtual Learning

Many educators are doing their best to prepare an interactive educational experience for their participants, and yet, they receive rather mediocre scores in evaluation forms. The key to success seems to be to not simply mimic our approach of face-to-face meetings but recognize the uniqueness of virtual learning.  Anyone designing, delivering, or participating in virtual webinars can probably point out some of the challenges.

  • Screen fatigue and burnout. Screen time has dramatically increased for all generations with television, video content, internet surfing, social media, and other screens taking from six to nine hours a day! Development webinars and podcasts often do not measure up to the entertainment value of the other screen lures. And after a glut of webinars, many employees are burned out. In 2020, we found that about 60 to 75 percent of those who registered showed up for webinars; now it is 30 to 40 percent.
  • Training transfer difficulties. Without good content, virtual webinars tend to be one-way communications, with a presenter and receivers. Engaging in skill-building, learning solutions, or dialogue through webinars is often difficult.
  • Multitasking of participants. Think of the last time you attended a webinar. Did you show your face? Did you multitask? This split attention exacerbates the inability of webinars to transfer ideas into actions.
  • Your additional challenge? 

Opportunities (Keys to Success) of Virtual Learning

While we naturally can spot the challenges of webinars, we may find a more useful way to spend our time is investigating what makes live online learning successful. These suggestions come from the statistical evaluation of our perceptions of hundreds of webinar attendees as well as our experience teaching.

Content, content, content.

Some webinar presenters are exceptional entertainers who often recite canned scripts filled with stories and quips. Others are gifted observers who have compelling opinions and frameworks. Performers and observers may get high, quick response marks, but often their ideas don’t linger. Finding presenters who go beyond performing and sharing opinions to offering insights based on thoughtful theory and rigorous research is increasingly difficult.

Quick-fix ideas may be entertaining but not sustainable: like cotton candy or other sugar highs. Or a great story easily inspires; delivering impact with insights that change how others think and act is more difficult. Our data and experiences find that participants most want and expect new, solid, and practical knowledge. Webinar providers ought to give evidence of their ideas that are based on more than an opinion or a survey of LinkedIn friends. As a presenter, ensure quality content by asking:

  1. What models and approaches should I present?
  2. How were they tested?
  3. How should they help in achieving the learning goals for this webinar?
  4. Should I consider other approaches or what was my rationale for choosing the one I am going to present?

Good content lingers beyond the session and frames how participants think, act, and feel.


While quality content based on insights matters, the process of delivering virtual learning also matters. The old adage, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound?” is so true in virtual learning. “If great ideas are presented but no one is paying attention to them, will they have impact?” No one style is an effective process for delivering webinars—and presenters need to use a style that works for them (personal stories, company examples, data from research, humor, questions, frameworks, and so forth)—but we have seen a couple of keys to improving the delivery.

1. Get the basics right. While we’re not trying to achieve broadcast TV quality, some of the basics are important to master so they are not distractions: microphone, lighting, camera angle (are you tired up looking up people’s noses?), and background noise are the most common mistakes participants notice.

2. Personalize the experience. The value of a webinar is not that ideas are shared by an engaging facilitator, but that the ideas are relevant to the learner. Relevance is ultimately personal, so presenters should not only share their ideas but help each listener personalize those ideas for themselves.

3. Practice engaged learning. Learning is not passive but active. Learning is more than the entertainment we get from watching a play, movie, or scripted talk. We can think about it like being a “guest” in a country and not a tourist who only visits, rides in vehicles, observes the landscape and scenery, takes pictures, and returns home generally unaffected by the experience. A “guest” experiences the country by meeting people, wandering around observing and feeling cultural patterns, and visiting local sites (restaurants, grocery stores, parks, places of worship). Tourists go home with a few pictures that they can share; guests leave with new frameworks that shape how they think, act, and feel. To engage in learning:

  • Start early in the webinar with a question that is relevant to the learner: “Why should this webinar be of value to you?” Facilitators should demonstrate how the webinar relevance was meaningful to them.
  • Use a variety of engagement tools (breakout groups, polls, chat questions, or simple Q&A) every five to seven minutes as a rule of thumb.
  • Summarize and ask participants to share (often in chat) what they learned and how they might use it.
  • Follow up a few days later with those who attended to ask them to share their learning. We have found that facilitators who respond to post-webinar questions on social media are more engaging as well.

4. Open up to re-learn. Try new tools, get into the problem-solving process around the challenges you face using online learning, and get frequent and deliberate feedback. Webinars are used to the scale never seen before, and we need to re-learn or constantly refresh our use of this method to use its true learning potential.

Learning virtually is here to stay; instead of giving up or being frustrated, run into it and make it work for you.

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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