“That’s ‘E’ for ‘Everyone’”: The Future of E-Learning in Public Libraries
E-learning refers to a range of solutions to promote learning using information technology. In practical terms, it has been relegated to courses online, most often in an academic or professional setting and usually with the help of a Learning Management System (LMS) such as WebCT or the newcomer Moodle. Some Universities have broadened the scope of their e-learning services to include the wider online community. For instance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the MIT OpenCourseWare , where course materials can be found online and for free to anyone who visits the site.
In theory, the idea of Free Public Library fits nicely into the e-learning paradigm, particularly “open” learning formats with free resources and digital libraries to support them. The New York Public Library’s wide collection of digital resources includes an online course called Prospecting for Business Information ( http://www.nypl.org/research/sibl/pbi2/home.html ), for instance. But “online course” has not really caught on as effective service in the public paradigm. While it may be difficult for library professionals who have spent a good amount of their lives taking courses to realize this, the broader public is more than happy to be finished with their schooling and be in a place where they can earn their own pay and learn at their own pace. In general terms, online courses do not sound fun to “Josephine (Joe) Public Library”. They sound like obligations or New Year’s resolutions to go alongside “lose weight” or “spend less.” Worse, they reinforce stereotypes about the public library as an “ought to” place, rather than a “place to be.” That means that to “Joe (Josephine) Public Librarian”, e-learning sounds like a flop before it even takes shape in an organization.
Yet, we do know that information technology has a lot to offer the average life-long learner. For one, e-learning provides the opportunity for self-paced learning, which is of great advantage to busy parents, people working long hours, or even those who simply desire to learn at a slower pace than that of your average university course. E-learning is not restricted to higher learning either. Presentations abound on topics ranging from physical fitness and gardening, to travel and meditation. People with literacy needs can use online technology to learn in privacy, without the stigma that comes with low-literacy ability. The combination of information technology and learning is a “no-brainer” in some respects and a tremendous opportunity if done effectively.
E-learning holds potential for public libraries, but for it to flourish, a wide range of things need to come along with it. Here are a few...