aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Learning Networking, PHP, and SQL

Posted by Ellen on May 24, 2010

Once upon a time there was a former association education director with a background in instructional design and online learning development. She and her husband (a former college instructor and electronics trainer) volunteered to serve on a committee to  help the group update its wi-fi system and Web site by creating a password-protected gateway that could be monitored for excessive bandwidth use.

Eager to learn and participate, the couple sat in on a brief orientation about how the wi-fi network was set up but before they could fully engage in the task at hand, politics intervened. The committee chair (and holder of most knowledge about the system) was suddenly cut out of the loop by the group’s president, who brought in a relative to take on the task.

To make a long story short, the couple — still willing to help, though a little more cautious about how they might go about it — poured over various texts and how-to manuals, purchasing a few with their own money to study up on networking, system hacking, databases, and database languages.

So much to learn! So little time!

Pouring over the books and talking with each other was helping them get a foothold in the subjects, and their mentor helped as much as he could. Not only was he retired and on the move, he was understandably less motivated after being abruptly ejected from his seat as chair on the committee.

What the couple really wanted, but couldn’t find, was a series of quick but solid online tutorials on the topics they needed to learn.


Informal learning was all well and good, but they would have been learning so much more efficiently if a basic course could have helped point them to the best starting block, led them through the fundamentals, and pointed them down the road, so the questions they would have asked their mentor could have been more helpful for all of them.

Alas. No courses. Someone, somewhere, had decided that all that was needed was a network of contacts and a set of questions. Our learning, it was presumed, would occur in the give-and-take of that social environment. Supplemented with a few chapters in the books, maybe.

Isn’t this what we’re hearing around us? That the course is dead, that social networking is all we need? MariAn at Designing Impact seems to think so.

I disagree. I’ve been saying this for some time — and will continue to say it — that sometimes a course is EXACTLY what you need.

Sometimes you have to get some basic understanding into your brain before you can even form the questions you’d ask an expert.

Sometimes the experts get tired of answering the same basic questions over and over.

Sometimes a book just isn’t enough. Maybe it’s just me, but although techies are great at some things, writing generally isn’t one of them.

Sometimes what you really need is a course.

4 Responses to “Learning Networking, PHP, and SQL”

  1. Hi Ellen.
    Thanks for visiting my blog. My point in my post wasn’t that “the course was dead” or that all we need [to meet learning needs] is social networking. On the contrary. I strongly believe that indeed, some times a course is really what is needed. My point was that at times those who want learning solutions designed or implemented “pre-determine the solution” (per my post, I called this course-itis) is a course even before considering learner needs, how the target audience would best learn and transfer the knowledge and what system (be it instructional, managerial, or technological or a mix thereof) would best support the application of their knowledge. Thinking the solution is a course before solution analysis occurs, limits opportunity to effectively ensure the solution meets needs. Afterall, the solution may not even be training at all. That all said, really appreciate your response. Likely you’re not the only the one who may have had that impression. I’ll update it short order to include a clarification. Please look for more of my posts that will take a deeper dive into this topic. Thanks for all your great thoughts in your blog. Cheers.

  2. Jay Cross said

    Who said “social networking is all we need”? That’s as silly as saying “computers are all we need” when evaluating eLearning.

    Optimal learning is a balancing act, not either/or.


  3. Why do people think that ‘informal learning’ cannot include courses? Of course it can! The difference between informal learning and formal learning is that people can take courses if they want, or learn some other way of they want, while in formal learning they’re all forced to take courses whether they want them or not.

  4. Ellen said

    MariAnn, Jay, and Stephen — Thank you all for reading and commenting! I’m so glad you punched the thesis behind the post right in the nose — that elearning courses have been declared dead. I agree that courses are a part of a full learning architecture that includes ways for learners to share what they’ve learned via social networking, add to the materials through wikis, opine on the subject via blogs, etc.

    I fear that among non-profit associations — which have barely begun to tap into the great wealth of elearning (especially stand-alone, asynchronous courses) — social networking and lecture-driven Webinars are still getting the bulk of attention and dollars. These are good fits for associations, but they aren’t the only answers. Unfortunately, many association education leaders feel forced to choose, despite the choice being a false one (Stephen, please correct my logical fallacy if needed!).

    MariAn — I took another look at your post and I either misread it (my bad and my apologies) or you’ve since revised it. I can see that the argument you make is not against elearning courses, but rather that we shouldn’t assume that a course is the answer. I likely read past that; as I said, associations don’t tend to make this assumption.

    Jay — Welcome! A long-time admirer of your work, I’m honored you’re here. I’m curious if you have defined how you see courses and informal learning working together. For example, do you see courses as particularly beneficial for fundamentals and basics, while informal learning can provide supplementary Q&A, and even greater value for learners more experienced with the topic?

    Stephen — I appreciate your distinction between informal and formal learning. And the reminder that what I’m really looking for is another form of informal learning — something I can do on my own, at my own pace.

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