Learning from a distance

May 11, 2010

Back in the 1980s a friend of mine was really excited about a concept called distance learning. The process was effectively teaching folks using technology. It allowed for entire classes to be in disparate locations while still interacting. The company that was introducing this concept has since been swallowed up, but the concept is more sound than you might realize. Especially if you or your organization has divisions or professionals all over the world.

Let’s take a look at a few ways people can learn anything from social media to food preparation using new tools.

First, there are Webinars. These are discussions led by masters in their field (you hope) on topics as varied as healthcare compliance to bike maintenance. I’m guest hosting a webinar on what to do with your Website after you launch it so it doesn’t languish. You can find me on Monday, May 17 at this location – sign up now if you want to attend.

Other companies are using them to pimp products, share knowledge and build a follower base. Firms like Awareness and Hubspot use them a lot to create buzz around their organization and their company’s products and services. What they offer that you can’t get from attending a conference in person, is the ability to streamline your learning.

It’s great to spend face time with people in the lobby of a hotel, but if you’re looking for targeted knowledge, these online routes are more effective ofttimes.

But how can you sift through the mess, short of spending entire mornings clicking around the Web Googling the word Webinar. Well, that’s where another friend of mine comes in. Rachel Levy started a company called Webinar Listings. This site aggregates a huge collection of these online learning programs so you can tell in a glance what’s happening when and how to sign up.

In fact, if you’re in the Boston area, Rachel is planning to present this company and concept to the attendees at a real-world event on Wednesday, May 12 in Waltham. The event is MassInno and it begins around 6PM…oh, it’s also free to attend.

Going beyond webinars, you can learn in a more formal way by taking classes at online colleges and universities. The one that jumps to mind is University of Phoenix. While these institutions might have been seen as fly-by-night in the past, they now carry accreditation and respect. You can take nearly any class you want and pursue many degree programs from your own living room. Which brings me to the biggest resource of all – the Internet.

While you might be digging around looking for the perfect webinar or session or conference, most of the content from these events and programs is archived somewhere on the Internet. Using Google or Bing or AddictoMatic, you can dig up information on myriad topics that can inform and entertain you for hours, days, weeks or months.

I’m NOT saying that this is a great resource because it’s all true. I’m saying the Internet is a great resource because it has such a breadth of knowledge at your fingertips. When I teach companies, universities and news outlets about social media, I’m very careful to explain how it’s a ‘buyer-beware’ environment on the Internet.

But once you’ve adopted some caution, you can find slide decks of presentations, past podcasts of shows featuring smart people, and even publications from every corner of the world. Your next step is to sit down and digest all this stuff. And become smarter.

What are your favorite resources on- and offline? Share them with others here in the comments.

Thanks for reading!