Teachers Spread Thin as Half a Million Children Learn Online

According to an article in today’s New York Times, 500,000 kids in America take classes online, with many of those receiving all all their schooling from virtual public schools.

That’s right, public schools. These programs receive funding from the state, and they’re not considered home-schooling.

This calls for more people who know and understand how to use online learning. The same article says a state audit in Colorado “found that one school, run by a rural district, was using four licensed teachers to teach 1,500 students across the state.”They’re spread enormously thin, and there’s got to be a better push for education of online educators.

Best in Social Networks in 2007: Us!

I’m very pleased to report that NTEN cited my article “How Nonprofits Can Be LinkedIn” as one of the best articles they ran in 2007. Santa came early!

Read the whole article on this blog or on NTEN.

(Also, if you happen to be an NTEN member, Talance has a partnership that lets you save on online training.)

Useful Usability Sites

[The following article originally appeared in the FreePint Newsletter at http://www.freepint.com.]

My Favourite Tipples
By Peter Maureemootoo

As an expert in how people interact with computers, I always try to think of the simplest way to present information to learners when building and publishing online courses. I turn to these sites time and again for creating a better user experience.

Peter Maureemootoo is president and co-founder of Talance, Inc., <http://www.talance.com/>, a company that publishes and builds online courses and robust, large-scale websites. He has special expertise in creating intuitive and compelling systems for all users.

What is Big Outside the US

We tend to use only the tools our immediate contacts and news sources tell us about, so it’s always interesting to see what’s big in other countries. This entry from Blognation Germany shows what they’re using over there.

Top 10 Ways for E-learning Projects to Succeed

Despite my earlier report citing the Sloan Foundation that e-learning is catching on, not everyone is seeing the same trends. A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID) survey from the UK found just the opposite online learning is on the decline.

This report from Martin Belton at Learning Technologies gives his findings on why e-learning initiatives fail, namely significant costs and high attrition rate. Still, it’s hard for organizations to deny 24/7 access, flexibility and elimination of travel costs. He also gives his top 10 ways for projects to succeed, very much worth reading. Here they are in short form:

1. Link training to performance reviews
2. Make managers accountable
3. Provide accreditation
4. Set time limits
5. Track performance
6. Ensure content is relevant
7. Provide formal rewards
8. Create a social dimension to e-learning
9. Launch a communications campaign
10. Tell them it’s important!

Gmail offers AIM Integration

In the midst of AIM, Skype, Gmail Chat and heaven knows how many more competing instant messaging tools there are, Google’s making moves to create one less program to keep track of. The company just released a feature that lets you chat with people using AIM from within Gmail. It’s fully integrated with the Gmail Chat feature, so there’s nothing to install. Click the triangle next to Set Status Here link, and choose Sign into AIM. You’ll see your AIM contacts listed along with all your other Gmail contacts.

The problem, of course, is that you don’t want to stay logged in to your Google account. If you do, the company can keep a pretty detailed log of every site you look at and attach it with your account profile. Best to relegate the feature to quick chats while you’re checking your Gmail account.

Universities Reach Large Audiences Through E-Learning

Even small universities can reach large student audiences through online learning programs. Take, for example, the University of Illinois, which has an exemplary online learning program and wants to reach 10,000 new online students by next year, according to a report this week by NPR.

Nowadays, many colleges require students to take at least one course online, so it’s little wonder that U. of Illinois, which has a relatively small on-campus student population, is looking for a new way to break ahead with this new learning.

The students, many of whom are plugged in 24/7 anyway, aren’t the hiccup to adoption. It’s the teachers. Learning the basics of podcasts, blogs and Second Life is a crash course for many of the educators, who are the same ones who teach in-person classes. The U of I puts teachers through a tech-ed bootcamp before turning them loose on the online sector of their students.

This makes me think the market for e-learning-only educators will continue to shrink as everyone becomes an expert in e-learning.

To that end, here are some handy tools that I share with the educators I work with so they can learn more about teaching online:

Illinois Online Network
http://www.ion.illinois.edu/Resources/tutorials/overview/index.asp

Simple Course Planning Worksheet
http://www.talance.com/planning.html

Weblogs, part II: A Swiss Army website?
http://istpub.berkeley.edu:4201/bcc/Winter2002/feat.weblogging2.html

Second Life Education Wiki
http://www.simteach.com/wiki/index.php?title=Second_Life_Education_Wiki

Education Podcast Network
http://www.epnweb.org/

Online Courses Finally Catching On

A fascinating report from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation indicates that more educators are finally catching on to online learning. The study indicates that “Online enrollments have been growing substantially faster than overall higher education enrollments.â€

To wit:

  • Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term
  • The 9.7 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.
  • Nearly twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2006.

Heading the curve are 2-year colleges, which have the highest growth rates and account for over one-half of all online enrollments for the last five years. Surely because online learning is extremely valuable for working adults, who can squeeze the lessons into their work schedules.

I’ve been working in e-learning for five years, and battling skepticism has been an uphill struggle. It’s good to hear that more people are loosening up to the notion.

But as an online course software developer, I still see huge roadblocks with many of the online learning platforms. They can be ungainly, unintuitive, quirky and expensive. Especially in early days of adoption, we find making a usable system is paramount.

For more reading, listen to this related report from NPR.

Handy CI Tools for Nonprofits and Small Companies

At the Special Libraries Association conference in Denver, CO, last June, I heard the term “competitive intelligence” uttered more than “Who’s giving away the free cookies?”

CI, as it’s called, is not exactly in James Bond’s arena, but even he would agree it’s helpful to know what the competition is up to. It’s an imprecise practice that consists of Internet research, networking at events and even eavesdropping in elevators to see what you can learn about similar organizations.

It makes sense for small businesses, because they’ve got to move quickly, and when you’re working with a small pool of people, fresh ideas that work in your market are at a premium.

Nonprofits should look to CI too, because as much as many hate to admit it, others are competing for that grant too, and it helps to know how you stand a better chance of winning it. Plus, you might find useful resources for volunteers or new funding resources.

The Web is the small shop’s best friend for CI, and here are a few tools that will help you keep track of what the competition is up to:

Google Alerts
http://www.google.com/alerts
How on earth did I manage before Google Alerts? Plug in any phrase you might research on the Web (say, “micro-philanthropy” or your competitor’s name), and Google will do an automatic search and deliver results directly to you. It’s free, to boot.

GuideStar.org
http://www.guidestar.org/
Most of the big nonprofits are listed in GuideStar, and trolling through their profiles will give you a good indication of their finances and new initiatives. A special tip is to look at their downloadable tax forms to see who’s on the board of directors and how much they brought in last year.

Alexa
http://www.alexa.com/
This is a free tool for evaluating the traffic performance of competitor websites. Its traffic estimates aren’t 100% accurate, but it’s still handy for helping to compare sites. It’s also a good indication of if a site is becoming more or less popular.

Zotero
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3504
Zotero is a Firefox plug-in that lets you create local snapshots of websites on your local computer. Even if a website changes, you can build up a little history of their earlier iterations, so you can track their evolution. It’s also useful for easily collecting reference sources.

3 Antidotes to Human Stupidity

It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when. For me, I lost all my data about two weeks ago when my hard drive melted down. I very nearly lost it all, and had to rebuild quite a bit of data. Thankfully, I have a network of little safety devices that cover up my natural human stupidity. Here are three friendly tools within the grasp of any small business or nonprofit, which will help avert disaster:

  1. Mozy (http://mozy.com/). Fast and easy automatic online backup. There’s a limited free plan for individuals (great for e-mail), a cheap $5 plan for piles of space.
  2. Red Drive (http://www.jscape.com/reddrive/index.html). Directly access your Web files through Red Drive. It lets you bypass confusing FTP programs and let you treat an off-site storage place like any old drive.
  3. Any freemail account (such as Gmail or Yahoo! Mail). Automatically cc your free webmail account on any outgoing message, and you’ll have a low-tech duplicate backup.