Most of the excitement and interest in eLearning has been in the ability for technology to connect students with teachers, and to automate elements of the teaching process – like the grading of exams online, for example. But there’s a key element of the eLearning experience that is somewhat lacking overall, and that’s the serendipitous networking that occurs in any physical in-person educational experience. In some schools, particularly the most prestigious, it’s often the people you meet and the contacts you make in school that are almost as valuable as the education itself, perhaps even more valuable. So how do we recreate that in the eLearning environment?
There might be a lesson from the world of journalism and a website known well among journos: Mediabistro. When Mediabistro first started, it marketed itself to journalists who were interested in getting to know the business, and make contacts, and the Mediabistro organization put together occasional in-person social gathering events at major hotels, starting in big cities in the Northeast and spreading out to other locations. These live events, combined with online blogs, industry news, and career advice, built a presence and an audience from which Mediabistro began offering eLearning courses in various aspects of journalism. Many of these were short webinars. But the model has worked.
Perhaps the academic world can take a lesson from this. Distance learning is good, but the in-person networking opportunities must exist as well. The first organization who combines these into an effective experience that is comparable to the in-person college experience will be a dominant power in the industry.
Or has someone done this already? If you believe there’s a strong leader in this field already, let us know in the comments section below, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.