For Professional Development, Click University: New Online Education Service Will Take Learning to Members' Desktops

Article excerpt

Starting this month, SLA's new Click University is coming to an Internet connection near you. In fact, to your very own desktop.

This new service will enable members to study from their work or home offices to improve their knowledge of information management, business management, software applications and more.

Click University will debut at the SLA annual conference in Toronto. It all started with a meeting in Chapel Hill ...

In 2003, Janice Lachance was sitting in a room with a group of librarians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having rarely spent much time with librarians during her tenure as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, she wasn't quite sure what to expect. This was one of her first meetings with members of the Special Libraries Association, where Janice was now serving as executive director.

"My first thought was, 'what the heck are they going to expect of me?' I think they were in awe of me, but what they didn't know is that I was just as much in awe of them!"

As the discussion ensued, Janice did what she always had done with groups of unfamiliar people: She asked them what they needed.

"It was pretty obvious within the first few minutes that they were starving for new learning experiences. But they also intimated that participation in live learning events was often very difficult. Either the costs were prohibitive for them personally, or their employers were unwilling to invest in professional development on their behalf. My instincts told me right then and there that we needed to do something."

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I first met Janice on October 23, 2003. It was my first day on the job at SLA. Five minutes into our conversation, it was apparent that we were in agreement on the need to lower the barriers for participants in our learning experiences. We agreed that an online learning community could be the primary initiative necessary for achieving that goal. There are many factors that make this true.

The rapidly changing world of library and information science requires that 21st century information professionals update their skills through continuing education. Many information professionals seek continuing education in information science and professional development topics, but are limited to either attending preconference workshops or seeking local workshops available within driving distance. Online education offers an alternative point of access and program flexibility. An SLA online community would be able to bring the collaborative model of online education to our membership.

Over the past 10 years online education has moved beyond the initial "no significant difference" paradigm. Instructors in developed distance education programs are finding that online education has advantages over traditional face-to-face delivery. The benefits of well-designed online education include delivery of courses anytime and anywhere, an increased level of student-to-instructor and student-to-student interaction, participation by otherwise isolated student populations, and the cost-effectiveness of distance programs for students, instructors, and institutions.

That said, embracing online education is not a simple task. Potential students may wonder whether online education offers convenience at the expense of quality. Fortunately, there is an emerging body of research informed by theory and practice to guide this transition.

Library and information science is particularly well suited for online education. Before the advent of online education, information professionals recognized the value of professional networks to increase access and improve quality in meeting a wide range of information needs. Learning online serves as a model for LIS professionals. Online communities provide opportunities for developing skills and knowledge that may later be directly applied to providing services during their careers. …