Web meetings, webinars and virtual classrooms compared

A table comparing the three principle uses of real-time online communication.

Unless I’ve missed something important, there seem to be three distinct uses for real-time online commmunications. The following table represents a first attempt at clarifying the discriminating characteristics of these three:

  Web meetings Webinars Virtual classrooms
Primary purpose To solve problems and make decisions To share ideas and experiences To facilitate learning
Secondary purposes To provide updates To promote the speaker or organiser None
Face-to-face equivalent A short business meeting A session at a seminar or conference A classroom session
Who’s in charge? The chair of the meeting The host and/or presenter The teacher / trainer
Typical activities Presentation of situation updates and proposals; discussion of proposals; decision-making; action planning Presentation of ideas and experiences; demonstrations; polling of audience opinion; Q&A; discussion; participant-to-participant text chat (back channel) Ice  breakers; presentation of formal content; software demos (for IT training); group exercises and activities; discussion; formative and summative assessment
Visual focus Participant webcams; shared documents; slides Slides; presenter webcam; text chat; polls; website tours Slides; electronic whiteboard; questions/polls; shared applications; website tours; text chat
Auditory focus Participants’ vocal contributions Host / presenters’ voices; possibly also participants’ vocal contributions Teacher/trainer’s voice and participants’ vocal contributions
Most frequently used interactive devices Voice; text chat Voice; text chat; polls Voice; text chat; electronic whiteboard; questions/polls; application sharing; break-out rooms
Tangible outputs Agreed actions / minutes Recordings; participant feedback Recordings; participant feedback; assessment scores

If you believe there are other, distinct forms, or feel you could refine or add to this table, I’d love to hear from you.