Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 12 May 2008   Tuesday, May 6, 2008

ISSN 1748-3603

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Working together to build a thriving e-learning community
by Clive Shepherd

Last December I was delighted to accept the invitation to become Chair of the eLearning Network (eLN). This is a part-time and voluntary position and, as such, must be fitted around the consulting work I carry out for my clients. The eLN is first and foremost a learning community: a network of like-minded people who want to share and collaborate. It would be true to say that up to now, this community has operated almost exclusively on a face-to-face basis, through its programme of conferences and other events. However, as we are all well aware, networking is no longer something that has to be reserved for special, or even face-to-face, occasions. As someone who designs and facilitates collaborative online learning programmes, as well as being a regular blogger and Facebook user, I am particularly interested in how learning communities thrive online. What it does it take to get someone to join an online network? What has to happen for that person to remain engaged? How can we encourage members to contribute and not merely 'lurk'?

The experiment has begun. One of the first tasks we have undertaken in 2008 is to create a new website for the eLN. The site makes extensive use of social networking tools. As the site evolves, members will be able to find other members with similar interests, form groups, share expertise and participate in polls and surveys. At the same time, it has become apparent that for this network to prove of real and lasting value, it must enfranchise a much greater proportion of the e-learning community in the UK and beyond. For that reason, we have established a new associate level of membership which is completely free. While associates miss out on the traditional benefits of eLN membership in the form of discounted conference fees and subscriptions to industry magazines, they do get the chance to engage with their peers through online social networking. We hope to encourage not just managers and owners to join the network, but also those tutors, trainers, designers, project managers, artists and developers, who do all the hands-on work of making e-learning a success. Some of these people get to work alongside their peers in teams of e-learning specialists, but all too many find themselves relatively isolated.

One of the attractions of my new position is the primary aim of the eLN, which is to promote the effective use of e-learning. You will be only too aware that there have been times when e-learning has failed to deliver on its promise and that there are too many learners who have been rather disappointed by their first exposure to the use of technology as an aid to learning. On the bright side, there are now far more good news stories than bad: stories of organisations which have begun to get it right and which are transforming their learning and development strategies. This good news needs to be spread, through vehicles such as the eLearning Awards, in which the eLN plays an important role, through magazines, journals and conferences, and through the everyday sharing of expertise that can be accomplished through networking, both online and face-to-face.

I hope that many of you reading this short article will share in the eLN’s ambition to build a thriving e-learning community of practice and will want to become active participants. I would encourage those who represent user organisations and vendors to become corporate members and use your influence to both shape our future direction and contribute directly to the success of elearning as a medium. If you’re working alone, we’d like you to expand your networking potential by at least becoming an associate. Remember the eLN is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers elected by its membership. We can make a difference, but we need your help.
Clive Shepherd

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