Massive (and Not-So-Massive) Open Online Courses: Libraries as Learning Centers

March 5, 2013

Completely immersed in #etmooc (the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course) with more than 1,600 other learners from several different countries since early February, I have just received a lovely reminder that we make a mistake by not paying attention to what is happening in our own learning backyards.

SFPL_LogoAlthough far from massive, a new free learning opportunity provided by the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) system for its users is beginning to roll out. It promises to be another great step in libraries’ efforts to brand themselves as learning centers within the extended communities they increasingly serve in our onsite-online world.

Using courses purchased from Cengage Learning’s Ed2Go, San Francisco Public is making these courses available at no cost beyond what we already pay in the tax revenues that support library services. The list of subject areas covered is magnificent: accounting and finance; business; college readiness; computer applications; design and composition; health care and medical; language and arts; law and legal; personal development; teaching and education; technology; and writing and publishing.

The initial list of courses is spectacular, as even the most cursory review reveals. Following the teaching and education link, for example, produces several subcategories of courses: classroom computing; languages; mathematics; reading and writing; science; test prep; and tools for teachers. Following that classroom computing subcategory currently produces links to 13 different offerings, including “Teaching Smarter with Smart Boards,” “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners,” “Integrating Technology in the Classroom,” and “Creating a Classroom Website.”

SFPL’s Ed2Go offerings under the personal development link are organized into 10 subcategories including arts; children, parents, and family; digital photography; health and wellness; job search; languages; personal enrichment; personal finance and investments; start your own business; and test prep.

The offerings appear to be wonderfully learner-centric in that each course listing includes a “detail” page that provides learners with a concise description of the learning need to be met by the course; a formal course syllabus; an instructor bio; a list of requirements so learners know in advance what they need to bring to the course; and student reviews offering comments by previous learners.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Ed2Go roll-out is how it reflects SFPL’s growth as a learning organization that uses learning to serve its community; when I last spoke with colleagues a couple of years ago about their plans to offer online learning to library users, the plan was still in its early-development stages. Discussions, at that point, were centered on short staff-produced videos using Camtasia or other online authoring tools. Members of the library’s Literacy and Learning Area Focus Team have clearly made tremendous progress since that time in finding ways to offer learning opportunities to library users, and they are far from finished.

“We’re rolling it out slowly,” a colleague told me this afternoon. “Training is one of our big pushes right now. It [Ed2Go] is our first start, and we have other ideas down the pike…We’re serious about internal [staff] training, external [non-staff] training—going out to the public.”

The idea of having staff produce videos is still under consideration, as is the idea of having library staff take an even more active role in providing more learning opportunities for the public: “We’re talking about doing out own trainings and putting them online, but that’s down the road. We’re not reinventing the wheel—but we are rounding it.”

As I have mentioned in other articles, the wicked problem of reinventing education continues to receive plenty of creative attention in a variety of settings, including the New Media Consortium’s recent Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas, and the “Future of Education” document that came out of that summit. Seeing increasing collaboration among the various providers of learning opportunities (e.g., our colleagues in academia, in museums, in libraries, in professional workplace learning and performance organizations including the American Society for Training & Development and other professional associations including the American Library Association) helps us understand why offerings along the lines of the massive open online courses and libraries’ freE-learning opportunities are quickly becoming part of our learning landscape—and suggests that those collaborations might be part of what leads us closer to effectively addressing the wicked problems we face in training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: This is the fifteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


FreE-Learning

January 19, 2010

Bill Hogan’s feature on free e-learning opportunities—“FREE-Learningin the January-February 2010 issue of AARP Bulletin provides yet another reminder that online learning is quickly becoming more and more accessible to increasingly large numbers of students of all ages.

Not only “can you learn just about anything you want to learn without setting foot in a classroom,” he writes, but a lot of what is available is “free, without restrictions or catches” for anyone with access to the Internet—which, of course, means most people with access to public libraries.

Hogan does a great job of introducing his readers to how to access these free resources by providing short tips on the types of Internet connections learners need, how to play audio and video files, what software is needed, and what sort of devices are available for those wanting to “learn on the go.”

More importantly, he leads learners to resources including “nearly 2,000 academic courses that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology” has posted online at no charge to users. Even the most cursory tour of the MIT site reveals links to more than 1,900 courses in broad subject areas including architecture and planning; engineering; health sciences and technology; humanities, arts, and social sciences; management; science; and cross-disciplinary topics. Courses appear to include a variety of resources including video lectures and lecture notes, reading lists, assignments, exams and solutions, and, in some cases, links to online textbooks—a boon for those all too familiar with the cost of printed textbooks.

Another gem within the article is an introduction to Stanford University’s Open Culture website which, in turn, provides links to “250 free online courses from top universities” including Columbia, Stanford, UC Berkeley,  UCLA, Yale, and others. Among the subject areas covered are architecture, art history, biology, computer science and artificial intelligence, cultural studies, economics, history, information science, literature, and philosophy.

A guide to e-learning sites at the end of the online version of the article leads learners to a variety of resources ranging from webcast.berkeley and howcast to TED Talks and interviews and lectures involving Nobel Prize winners.  

And for those who have been wanting to experiment with e-learning and need guidance on how to learn effectively using online learning resources, that too is readily available. With e-learning continuing to expand into what Hogan has so wonderfully dubbed Free-Learning, our biggest challenge may be to carve out the time to absorb even a fraction of what is available to us.


%d bloggers like this: