E-learning and time.

I’ve been catching up on some reading about online tutorials lately.  I’m glad to see there’s some work being done on assessment of library tutorials, and a conversation on ILI-L about how we determine who uses these things and how.  Obviously, this is important stuff to know, and there’s not a lot of research on the “back end” of library tutorials, to my knowledge.  The recent piece in C&RL, “If you build it, will they learn? Assessing online information literacy tutorials,” was a welcome start to the conversation.  I’m also reading a piece from portal, “Testing the effectiveness of interactive multimedia for library-user education.”  ‘Interactive multimedia’ being basically another word for online tutorials.  Clearly, controlled vocabulary is an issue here.

Anyway, one of the points in that latter article that’s stayed with me is that so many librarians who participated in the LUMENS project to create interactive multimedia projects either dropped out because of overload or gave feedback that they couldn’t reproduce their projects later, because they just didn’t have enough time.  This makes sense.  Librarians are already pulled in fourteen directions, especially in smaller institutions, where one person can be responsible for five subject areas, an instructional load, a reference area, a bunch of committee work, and her own tenure and promotion clock.  Everyone’s overworked–asking librarians to learn how to use Flash on top of everything else they do is hardly fair.  But research is also showing that online tutorials (when used right) are popular and helpful for users.  Enter the e-learning librarian, whose job it is to create online tutorials and (with luck) an efficient process or template for making more tutorials.

Sounds great, but there are still logistical and organizational hurdles.  I’ve been working on making online tutorials here since the start of the year, and due to various obstacles, competing obligations, and possibly my own obtuseness, it’s taken me this long to make one that I think is actually worthwhile.  Tutorial software is often marketed with pull quotes claiming that you can go from zero to “finished tutorial, live on the website” in a matter of a few hours.  In my experience, that’s true–but the tutorial you’ll have made is likely to be bad.  And as was recently pointed out on ILI-L, a bad tutorial is worse than no tutorial, since it’s consumed a lot of time and energy and will probably go unused.

So there’s an elephant in the room with e-learning in libraries–the issue of time.  “Regular” librarians don’t have time to make online tutorials; “e-learning” librarians do, but they’re thin on the ground and may also be saddled with more than one priority.  In my case, I came from a “regular” librarian background, so part of my year has also been spent figuring out exactly what my new job is supposed to be.

A separate but related issue is that of the gulf between “regular” and “techie” librarians, which is readily apparent just from the discussion lists I’m on.  On the tech lists, people talk comfortably about their APIs and CMSs.  On the regular lists, they don’t.  There’s a knowledge gap, and I fear we’re reproducing the schism we see in larger structures outside librarianship.  Campus tech experts often don’t know how to explain to laypeople what’s wrong with their computer system.  For that matter, scientists may not be able to communicate with humanists.  We live in a culture of specialization, and few people are capable of getting their heads “above water” enough to talk intelligibly to folks who live on other islands.  And yet I think that’s a crucial part of what I should be doing, and probably of what we all should be doing, as librarians talking to faculty and students.
I’m straying, but these are issues I find coming up over and over.  Time, resources, and communication.  Big issues.  So far, I have no answers.

One thought on “E-learning and time.

  1. Karen:

    I read your post and wanted to say that (1) yes many librarians are very overworked, (2) designing tutorials is time consuming if you do it right and (3) that I do believe that they are needed – not just by millennials – but more importantly by all students (including Distance Education and Nontraditional students for whom distance and time make it impossible to get into the library.) This – combined with my understanding of how many e-resources we subscribe to – meant that when I first saw Flash Tutorial software on display, my first thought was how useful it would be for developing tutorials for our e-resources – provided that we could do so collaboratively. As a result, I am now part of an innitiative know as ANTS: ANimated Tutorial Sharing Project.

    ANTS is an Open Source project which has identified a number of point-of-need tutorials for development and placed them on a Wiki list. We ask people visiting the list to adopt a tutorial and keep it up to date. We would rather have one person create one tutorial and keep it up to date, than have that one person create ten which quickly become obsolete.

    Anyone can go to the wiki list and adopt a tutorial. They then are directed to our guidelines for tutorial development which we developed in order to (1) ensure some minimal standards were met in each tutorial and (2) to make sharing more easy and more desirable. Once they have completed a tutorial, they then go to DSpace at the University of Calgary and deposit it in the ANTS site. This site – like the Wiki – is open to librarians everywhere. When they upload content we encourage them to sign a Share Alike Creative Commons License – which tells others that they have the right to use and modify their tutorial.

    No one library can do this alone, but there are over 200,000 librarians in Canada and the United States – and this tells me that we do have the human resources needed to develop much needed tutorials if we do it wisely and together.

    If you want to learn more you can visit the ANTS site. It is at:


    Hope you find it useful.


    Carmen Kazakoff-Lane

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