Nonprofits are using e-learning (at least according to the annual Isoph and N-TEN survey on online learning in the nonprofit sector), but it is hard to find the examples of great nonprofit e-learning. Are there purple cows out there?
Blog Spottings and Other News
While it would have been a great item to work into my Connections and Comparisons post last week, I found out (via Lisa Junker at Acronym) about Jeff De Cagna’s tag cloud comparison a bit too late to work it in. On his Principled Innovation blog, De Cagna juxtaposes two tag clouds he generated that illustrate the difference between an article he authored on association “ungovernance” and the more traditional model espoused by John Carver, a leading governance theorist. The differences are striking. Back in the days when I taught Russian, we used to say (in Russian, of course) that “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Perhaps comparison is the father.
There is a free Chief Learning Officer Webinar coming up on September 6 at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern that may be of interest to some readers. The Webinar will address “the issues of the digital environment and the impact on the marketplace raised in Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail,” the discussion will focus on what you can do to keep your learning organization prepared in a world of constantly evolving information.”
Where are the Nonprofit Purple Cows?
Purple Cow. I have been familiar with this concept of marketing guru Seth Godin’s for some time, but only recently did I take the time to read the full text of his book Purple Cow. For those unfamiliar with it, Godin’s term was inspired by a family drive through France in which everyone was “enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway.” As captivating as the cows were at first, however, they soon became ordinary, boring. This leads Godin to muse about the possibility of a Purple Cow—now wouldn’t that be remarkable. Purple Cow is an argument for creating products that are not just good, or even very good, but remarkable.
It’s easy to argue that the Purple Cow concept is just a new take on the 4 Ps of marketing, rather than a new P, as Godin claims, or that it is just a revamp of the old idea of a unique selling proposition. But that would be missing the point (or perhaps it is the point). More than anything else, a book like this should cause you to stop and think about the state of products and services in your own field. What are the remarkable products and services, if any? Which organizations stand out as really doing something exceptional for their members, customers, or other stakeholders? How can your organization create a Purple Cow?
In the field in which I do much of my work—online learning for nonprofit organizations—visibility into the remarkable is remarkably limited. There are awards out there for online learning, of course. Brandon Hall Research, for instance, will soon be announcing recipients of its annual Excellence in Learning Award. Only rarely do nonprofits show up in these, however (a Bronze award to the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife University in 2004 is a notable exception), and I am not sure how many of the award winners truly represent what I would consider to be a Purple Cow anyway.
What I have in mind is not so much flashy e-learning that takes advantage of all of the latest media technologies or that maxes out the feature set of a learning management system or even that demonstrates all the best approaches to instructional design. No, what I am looking for is online learning that really aligns with an organization’s strategy, fits the target learner’s needs to a tee, delivers truly engaging and effective learning, and leaves the user wanting more and eager to tell others.
To be honest, I think a relatively modest initiative like GCF LearnFree, developed and managed by Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina might fit the bill as well as much flashier initiatives. The site (which appropriately enough sports purple as its primary color) has attracted 285,458 members as of this posting. Remarkable! This may be because the tutorials it offers, while hardly flashy, are straightforward and effective, addressing areas of significance to the target audience, because it uses a variety of techniques to involve educators and establish a sense of community, or because it has taken the very practical step of securing IACET approval. It is no doubt because of all of these things and more.
There are others out there, grazing, mooing, standing out dramatically against the backdrop of ordinary e-learning offerings. I know some of them, and will mention them from time to time, but I know there are many I will never find. So, please consider this an official cattle call: If you know of a nonprofit online learning site you think is a Purple Cow, whether offered by a charitable organization, an association, a foundation, an advocacy group, a religious group, a political organization, or any other type of nonprofit, please post a comment with a link (if it can be accessed publicly) and any other information you can provide.