E-Learning in Public Libraries
Borrow Your Education Online

E-Learning | Photo (detail): © viperagp - Fotolia.com

Due to the ongoing process of digitalisation public libraries are being faced with even more new challenges. They are now reacting to the ever-changing needs of information-seekers with various ranges of e-learning programs.

These days public libraries in Germany are no longer being viewed as mere lending libraries, but more and more as places of learning. At the same time, in the wake of the rapid pace of technological innovation, the search for information has shifted massively to the internet. “How can we, as providers of education and learning, react to this and create a learning environment online?”, is the question Sven Instinske has been dealing with. He is the head of the Portal and E-Service department at the Bücherhallen – a foundation that supports public libraries in Hamburg. In cooperation with his colleagues he has been sounding out the possibilities of a model that would “enable users to download courses irrespective of space and time.” The Bücherhallen Hamburg was one of the first libraries in Germany to introduce e-books; later in 2009 it paved the way for a groundbreaking e-learning platform.

Lending model for e-learning

The greatest challenge that faced Instinske during the planning phase was the search for someone to develop the necessary software. Most of the providers are specialised in internal e-learning programs for companies. At last a partner was found that was prepared to make new experiences in the public libraries sector.

Today the Bücherhallen has over 100 interactive online courses, what they call web-based training (WBTs), in its program. Most of them focus on such subjects as IT/EDP, languages, business administration, as well as Microsoft Office applications. “We would in fact like to offer users a much broader rang”, says Instinske, ”but we are only granted licences from providers who are willing to commit themselves to a lending model.” A problem similar to that of copyright law that also crops up with the lending of e-books in public libraries.

With the launch of the Scoyo platform in March 2013 there is now an additional e-learning site for children. In line with the type of school, the grade level and the syllabus of the individual German federal state pupils can freely select exercises and tests for the most important school subjects taught from grade one to seven.

The trend is towards online learning

Anybody who wants to make use of what is on offer simply has to log into the eBuecherhalle page on the website and verify his user authentification with his library customer card. Up to ten courses can be booked at the same time and they have to be completed within a period of 90 days. The course can be interrupted as many times as the user wants. “Users work at their own speed and from wherever they want,” as Instinske emphasises. He is satisfied with the response from users so far. ”The platform is furthermore used by five other public libraries in Germany. “There is a definite trend towards online learning,” Instinske is convinced.

He sees the advantages for the public libraries in the fact that they can provide access to the collection of courses. In addition e-learning is a new way of recruiting new groups of customers who have a high affinity for the internet, but who up to now have not been members of the usual circle of library users. This is an acquisition that has financial aspects for the institutions that as a rule do not benefit from generous budgets.

Making the product visible

Of course there are still a few hurdles to get over. For example, using the products on terminal devices like smart phones or tablets has still not been fully developed. “Learning vocabulary by means of a mobile app is quite feasible, but instructions on how to design a PowerPoint presentation would be more of a problem”, as Instinske says. “The development of a responsive design for the mobile internet has to be promoted.” This, however, would require a great deal of time and money.

A further task would also be to get the product message out to people via internal courses held at the library, like the one entitled Einstieg ins E-Learning (An Introduction to E-Learning) The Bücherhallen with its 160,000 active customers might well be the most used library in Hamburg, but the battle for attention among other cultural institutions is fierce, especially in the big cities. “It is not enough to just generally market a platform”, Instinske added. “The actual content itself has to be strategically advertised and the benefit has to be made quite clear”, he advises. One field of marketing that would be particularly suited to this would be that of the social media.

Blended learning

Instinske could well imagine the concept of “blended learning” as an option in the future. This would involve a combination of e-learning and traditional classroom instruction. This has in fact already been successfully tested at the library in Norderstedt. Course participants first work independently on their computers. They then later get together regularly at the library with the course teacher to discuss questions and to work through certain chapters again together. Local adult education centres would serve well as partners for this type of course.

Instinske sees the public library as the ideal place for bridging the gap between digital and physical learning. “We have the space for such encounters and we can supply the online material – the best of both worlds, so to speak.”