This semester I’m taking ‘Distributed Learning Librarianship’ online at the University of North Texas. Needless to say online learning is on my mind. In August of last year Rose L. Chou contributed a great HLS post In Defense of Online LIS Education, and Laura Sanders’ recent post on Teaching Methods Used in Library School generated some good discussion that included comments about online coursework. I’d like to build on some of the ideas presented in these post and in my class. I feel like every other day I have a conversation with someone about online courses that includes a statement like, “How does that even work?” or “I can’t imagine what a class would be like online.” This weekend it dawned on me–maybe you can’t imagine what an online class is like until you take one. Sometimes I feel like I’m describing driving to someone who hasn’t ridden in a car.
There is a growing population of online students in the United States. According to the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning online enrollment experienced an average annual growth rate of 20% from 2002 to 2009. From fall 2008 to fall 2009 there was an online enrollment increase of nearly one million students for a total of 5.6 million students. Many areas of librarianship are affected by these online learners. As one would expect, online students turn to their University libraries for support–but they also use their local public libraries for school-related needs. Additionally, school librarians may be called on by K-12 students taking online classes. As more people choose to learn online, do we need more librarians who know how to serve them? There are many different ways to approach needs assessment—in the case of online learners I’m beginning to think needs assessment should come, in part, from firsthand experience.
I understand that online learning isn’t a great fit for every library school student and many people still resist the idea of online courses and degrees. 5.6 million online learners are proceeding anyway. How are we going to educate ourselves to meet their information needs?
I want to know what you think. Do we need to do more to anticipate the needs of online learners in our coursework? How does your school’s curriculum address online learning? Should library school students be taking more online courses? Let’s discuss.