The Best Things in Life Are Free

Final Jeopardy: Its objective is to provide practical information about how to use eLearning. It’s free. 30,000 people read it every month in the course of 80,000 visits. Its archives boast 300 substantive articles and a 100 product reviews on eLearning. Its many contributors are an influential community of practice. Sites in 65 countries link to its glossary. It has never spent a dime on advertising.

What is it? You have thirty seconds to write down your answer.

It’s Learning Circuits, the online magazine “all about eLearning.” I remember talking with Tom Barron, the founding editor, in late 1999 when he and ASTD’s Pat Galagan were preparing to launch Learning Circuits. ASTD had been publishing a print magazine, Technical Training for years, but on-line delivery was the obvious wave of the future, and Pat decided it was time for ASTD to, ahem, eat its own cooking.

Last week I called Ryann Ellis and Eva Kaplan-Leiserson to find out what goes on behind the scenes and what might explain Learning Circuits’ stunning success. (Disclosure: Learning Circuits has published several of my articles, and I manage the Learning Circuits blog. I am a fan.)

My curiosity had been aroused when I read “You may be surprised to learn that Learning Circuits is produced by only two people.” Those two people are Ryann Ellis and Eva Kaplan-Leiserson. Ryann, now in her tenth year with ASTD, started with T+D magazine and worked on ASTD’s Web team before becoming Learning Circuits editor in February 2001. Eva joined T+D as associate editor four years ago when her dot-com melted down and spends about a third of her time on Learning Circuits. While not involved in day-to-day operations, Paul Harris built the often-quoted news area of Learning Circuits and recently handed the news chores to Ryann so he could start writing case studies. (An unbiased case study is hard to find.)

I asked Ryann and Eva what stories were their favorites. After their courteous assertion “Yours, of course,” they returned to reality and identified:

  • Sam Adkins is the most interesting. “He blows me away even though I only understand half of it.”
  • Clark Aldrich and Tom Barron wrote a powerful series on customer-focused eLearning early on, before others were thinking that way.
  • Paul Harris has written some great ones, for example his article on outsourcing last June.
  • In the Fundamentals series, Making Peace with eLearning was cool, suggesting yoga as a means to escape the inevitable frustrations of eLearning.
  • Also, though she was too gracious to bring it up, Eva’s two-part series on We-learning, has popped up all over the blogosphere.

Like all of us who survived the dot-com bubble, Learning Circuits has evolved with the times. For the first year, new stories appeared once a month, much like a print magazine. Now new material is added weekly. The site has been redesigned every year to improve navigation, accommodate new features, and keep a contemporary look. In early 2002, Learning Circuits was the first eLearning publication to publish a companion blog.

The content, mostly contributed by a loyal following of volunteers, is compelling. On the web, it’s rare when a reader stays more than five minutes; on Learning Circuits, the average stay is 15 minutes!

In late 2000, few people had a grasp of the terminology of eLearning, anything from asynchronous to zipfile, so Eva led a band of volunteers who created what is probably the best glossary of eLearning terms on the web.

From the outset, Learning Circuits has strived to be very practical with “Five things you need to do to set this up or buy that or include in your RFP.” If you have some practical wisdom to share, email it to Ryann; the readership is insatiable.

In addition to the articles, case studies, news, and glossary, Learning Circuits has:

  • The Learning Circuits blog kicked off in April 2002 with commentary from Peter Isackson, Tom Barron, Clark Quinn, Bill Horton, Kevin Wheeler, Margaret Driscoll, Allison Rossett, Richard Clark, and Jay Cross. This was before most people had ever heard the word blog.
  • Answer geeks. ASTD members-only service. The Best of Q&A appear later as a column.
  • Many readers are working on their second generation of eLearning. They are beyond the basics, so Learning Circuits just started running OpEd pieces that are more theoretical and reflective than its traditional how-to stories.
  • A couple of months back, ASTD opened up searchable discussion boards. They will be adding additional features like polling. Ryann and Eva report there’s “tons of activity.”
  • Product reviews and demos. Not just a link to a vendor webpage. Eva checks out what’s being offered to make certain it’s worth your time. Often vendors assemble a special package for Learning Circuits readers.
  • Quarterly Trends column. Coming soon. Eva’s working on it.

Learning Circuit’s objective is to provide practical information about how to use eLearning to everyone, not just ASTD members. Ryann and Eva are educating the market. They are making the world of eLearning a less scary place. By the way, in addition to soliciting and editing articles, Ryann also personally does the layout and coding for Learning Circuits.

I know what you’re thinking: What can I do to help Ryann and Eva progress with Learning Circuits? I’ll offer a few suggestions:

  • Since Learning Circuits lives by viral marketing, tell a friend.
  • Share your experience; send in a story to [email protected]
  • Drop a note to Pat Galaghan to tell her how much you appreciate Ryann & Eva's work on Learning Circuits.


Posted by Jay Cross at April 24, 2004 07:11 PM | TrackBack
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