In the past year or so, you or someone you know has likely taken some school or college courses that are taught over the internet. Online learning, sometimes referred to as distance learning or distance learning, is nothing new – people have been using their desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones to access learning content for years. However, the pandemic has separated learners from their classrooms in an unprecedented way. For many of us, including librarians, this sudden change pushed us out of our comfort zones and we had to adjust to this “new normal” whether we like it or not.
There are two main types of online learning: real-time instruction (synchronous) and instruction that allows learners to learn at their own pace (asynchronous). While some people may feel isolated due to a lack of in-person interactions, online learning is not without its benefits.
With a device connected to the Internet, people can learn from anywhere, whether it is in another state or on the other side of the world. Taking courses online can also save travel time and accommodate those with family or work obligations. What’s more, research has shown that a well-designed online course can facilitate learning just as effectively as in-person instruction.
But what does online learning have to do with libraries? If people take lessons from their rooms, don’t bricks and mortar libraries become useless? Although traditionally known to house physical books, libraries, especially college and university libraries, have a wide range of offerings for distance learners, and we can take the example of the University of London library. ‘Idaho.
Let’s talk about our collections first. Although we have eBooks that people can use online, most of our collection of books is in physical format. If the students live in other parts of the state or country, we send the books with return shipping labels to their off-campus addresses. We can also borrow print materials and media from over 30 other academic libraries in the Pacific Northwest and send these items to off-campus locations.
Although we cannot digitize an entire book due to copyright laws, we may digitize certain sections (a chapter, for example) if people submit a request, then we email them the digital files. . We may also request and deliver electronic copies of materials held by other libraries around the world.
In addition to books, we have other digital collections including journal articles; theses and dissertations; local, national and international newspapers; streaming video for education and recreation; unique digital collections such as resources related to Idaho history and jazz; and many others available online.
The University of Idaho library also offers a variety of services to support online learning. We provide stable Wi-Fi and study rooms and spaces equipped with video conferencing technology for collaborative online work in the library building. Librarians also run workshops on a variety of professional development and continuing education topics each semester, both online and in person, and resources from past library workshops are readily available on the library’s website.
Finally, in addition to calling, texting and emailing us, anyone (yes, anyone) can use our online chat service through our website to get support. 24/7 help. All of these resources and services are just a few examples of how we support online learning.
One final note: you can also find other library resources even if you are not affiliated with a university. In addition to your local public library, did you know that anyone living in Idaho can access thousands of magazines, reference materials, newspapers and more for free through lili.org?
As more schools and colleges embrace online courses, supporting distance learners may have been a late task for some libraries. Although the way we learn has changed over the years, libraries will continue to provide access to information and disseminate knowledge as part of our core missions, and supporting e-learning is just that. one of the many services that will continually improve and evolve.
Hanwen Dong is an Instructional Technology Librarian at the University of Idaho Library.