This article was updated from a 2009 piece, written by Chris Peters for TechSoup for Libraries (formerly the MaintainIT Project). This effort was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to gather and distribute stories around maintaining and supporting public computers in libraries.
This article is part one of a two-part series. This part addresses online resources, and the second part discusses
When a technology question arises at your nonprofit or library, the amount of technology information available online can be overwhelming. From quick tutorials to an entire college lecture series, you can access information on any topic and in any format. This article will provide suggestions for navigating the amazing array of online resources. Sites discussed here include quick reference sources, news and product review websites, social networking and discussion forums, and more in-depth training and e-learning sources.
Online learning offers a low-cost, green alternative to traditional classes and conferences. You can dramatically reduce your carbon emissions, cut back your travel expenses, and lower your paper consumption when you use online learning resources judiciously. With budgets tightening and environmental issues topping everyone's list of concerns, it's a worthwhile option.
These sites are useful for targeted searches as well as for learning basic technology concepts:
For product reviews, news, analysis of technology trends, and background information, the following can be helpful:
An RSS reader can help manage the flood of information, especially if you regularly check several different blogs and other websites. An RSS reader is a tool that lets you easily subscribe to and organize syndicated website feeds. New content from sites you subscribe to is automatically delivered to you. For an introduction to RSS, see Common Craft's
RSS in Plain English video.
delicious is a social bookmarking site that helps you collect and organize your favorite links. It also lets you search everyone else's bookmarks and see what the most popular bookmarks are for any given topic.
Many websites have networking or discussion features, but the resources in this section make interaction the primary focus.
If you want a more in-depth learning experience, there are many options online, including in-depth tutorials, free course materials from colleges and universities, webinars, and more formal online training.
These sites can help you find detailed tutorials on technology topics.
Books 24x7 are searchable online book collections, including books on current technology topics and computer manuals. Even better, your local library may have a subscription to one or more of these sites. All you need is a library card number, and you can usually log on and read or download books from home.
MIT, Stanford, Yale, UC Berkeley, and many other schools make their course materials available online for free. Content can include lecture videos, audio recordings, assignments, syllabi, and lecture notes. Check out the offerings in iTunes under iTunesU for video and audio recordings of lectures from top universities.
Academic Earth, and the
OpenCourseWare Consortium are a few sites that will help guide you to other open courseware offerings.
Webinars are real-time, interactive online presentations combining lecture, demonstration, and (usually) audience participation. After the live session, you can usually access a recording with all of the original content, including audio, slides, and discussion.
E-learning tends to be more structured and goal-oriented than webinars and tutorials. These trainings may take days or weeks to complete; they might incorporate exercises, quizzes, and tests; they often provide you with certification or classroom credit; finally, they usually cost money.
This list is a starting point to help you answer your technology questions. For offline learning resources, check out our
companion article. But remember, there's often more than one way to find those answers and more than one way to learn new skills. As with all new challenges, it helps to be flexible, patient, playful, and creative in your approach to learning about technology.
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