I get it. Your institution, whether academic or corporate or whatever, has standards and they want consistency across their webinars and/or courses. There are big advantages to using templates (and style sheets, models, frameworks, etc). From the design side, there is the efficiency of having a shell to start. From the learner's side, there is ease of familiarity with the basic structure or navigation. There are other advantages too, but this post isn't about why you should use templates, it is about how you should use them.
Often, in our quest to be efficient and consistent, we end up being boring. Too much consistency and the brain of the learner checks out. When everything starts to be too similar, it gets harder and harder to capture the learner's attention and maintain their interest. Surprise and novelty, and yes, a little struggle is what the brain needs when learning something.
So what can we do? Well, one thing is to try to find balance between leveraging the advantages of using templates and being a little disruptive. For instance, does every assignment need to be of the read-respond-reply format? Really? Week after week? I think we can be a little more creative than that. Are there really limitations on the types of activities you can put into the basic framework? Are you even sure what the boundaries of your framework are?
Sometimes we assume that we have to stay tried and true to a particular format simply because it has always been done that way. Ask a few questions. Push a little on those boundaries and see what happens. Can you add imagery? Or audio? Are there features available that just aren't commonly used?
Finally, even if the look and feel of the container can't be changed, what about what you put into the container? Think of a template like a house. There may be a whole bunch of houses in a community that look the same on the outside, but each is furnished on the inside with the unique selections, styles, and preferences of the residents of that house. Can you play with the format of your job aids, resources, syllabus, etc? Can you provide links out to other sites where you can have learners explore different things and in different ways?
Really, it comes down to how can you be more creative and keep iterating to ensure that your audience is getting the best you can offer? And creativity is often sparked by limitations. So instead of getting trapped in your templates, how about we use them as the seeds that sprout a whole new type of learning experience?
Let me know what you come up with.