What’s the difference between podcasts and webinars?

New media can be hard to explain.  Often when I’m talking to credit unions or credit union leagues about podcasting, they think about podcasting in terms of an instructional seminar.  It’s not.  But there are plenty of things that are.  Wikipedia, that reasonably accurate new media resource, helps us define podcasts versus webinars.

In essence, for webinars and web conferencing, think seminars and meetings.  For podcasts, think radio and episodic content on whatever you want to listen to.  Webinars and web conferencing are about conveying hard information, usually that you pay for, in real time.  Although, sometimes you can buy recordings of webinars that you can listen to at your leisure.  Podcasts can be informative or entertaining or both.  Almost all of them are free.  Podcasts are never live. 

The most important point that I want to make is that podcasting doesn’t compete with webinars and web conferencing.  Podcasting competes with radio.  People listen to webinars and web conferences like they would listen in the classroom.  People listen to podcasts in their cars or while relaxing.  In podcasting there’s no live interaction.
That being said, and to muddy the water, some professors are putting their college lectures out as podcasts.  This greatly helps students who miss a lecture.  The episodic nature of the lecture series works as a limited run podcast.  In the same manner, if you gave a series of webinars on a topic and then put them out on iTunes as a podcast series later, it would blur the line more.  At that point, you could turn a webinar into a podcast, but you can’t truly turn a podcast into a webinar. 

So why are we bothering with such semantics?  It is an important distinction because if a vendor that sells seminars to credit unions thinks of podcasting in the same manner as it thinks about giving seminars, podcasting seems to be undesirable.  Think about it:  if part of your business model is to charge a fee for something (the webinar), then giving that information away for free doesn’t much help.  Once you understand the difference between webinars and podcasts, you can see that this isn’t the case at all, however.  The live interaction involved with the webinar and the real time streaming of that information is what creates the instructional value for which people are willing to pay (if the content is good).  Podcasting, then, can complement and promote more in depth material to be given later in a webinar or a live seminar.


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