Door Opens for Nonprofits to Collaborate Online and Provide Online Courses At Low Cost
Center For Nonprofit Management
LOS ANGELES -- In an effort to significantly enrich and expand the audience for its management courses, the Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides information, training and consulting services to charitable groups, is moving online its 150 courses aimed at sharpening management skills for nonprofit leaders.
"Online education is exploding and it's a terrific opportunity to reach non-profits with budgets that don't allow for conference travel or university-based continuing education," said Peter Manzo, executive director of the Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM). A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education found a doubling of students taking online courses between 1998 and 2001, and that number is expected to continue to increase, according to Manzo.
But when CNM went looking for a way to begin delivering some of its sessions over the Internet, the costs were shocking. Mainstream commercial software packages cost more than $65,000 for start-up, licensing and maintenance. At the same time, CNM and its collaborative partners in the California Management Assistance Partnership (C-MAP), a statewide coalition of 14 nonprofit management support organizations, were looking for tools to help them communicate and collaborate at a distance.
To keep costs down for its members, the Center searched for an alternative. The result was a partnership with Urban Insight, a Los Angeles-based Internet consulting firm that works with "open source" software, created by individuals around the world who collaborate to improve and adapt software in an agreed-upon manner.
"Within four months, our team of developers and staff from the Center jointly developed the specifications and requirements for a system to meet their needs, identified several open source products and wove them together to create a system that provides 90 percent of the functions needed for a proprietary learning management system for just a fraction of the cost," said Abhijeet Chavan, Urban Insight's Chief Technology Officer, who led the integration effort.
Urban Insight was already using a commercial software product to deliver Internet courses to its own clients, so Chavan was familiar with the costs and restrictions of commercial software used to create a Learning Management System (LMS) that provides training and courses via the Web. "Free from onerous licensing costs and restrictions, Open Source enables us to stay in control of our LMS," he added.
"Because we don't have to pay heavy licensing fees, the LMS will enable us to not only improve our training programs and better collaborate with our partners, but it will also allow us to begin to offer free and low-cost support to nonprofit collaboratives and advocacy efforts." said Manzo. "Our primary goal in using the LMS for training will be to enrich the experience of participants in our live training courses, which is proving to be the best use of online learning systems -- to encourage and support learning outside of the classroom and between sessions, rather than as a replacement for in-person teaching."
The Center's open source LMS includes such advanced features as discussion forums, virtual libraries, graded quizzes and tests, course evaluations, online chat, fee-based and free registrations, a full-text search engine, student journals, attendance and grading modules, and an interactive glossary.
For more information contact:
Center For Nonprofit Management
606 S. Olive St., Suite 2450
Posted May 20, 2004
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