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Chabad Conference Initiatives: Jewish Adult Education Goes Online

By , Lubavitch Headquarters

This is part four in a Lubavitch.com series on initiatives in educational, social and religious outreach, announced at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim in New York.

If online MBA programs and YouTube got together and had a smart Jewish baby, it would probably bear a striking resemblance to Chabad-Lubavitch’s newborn distance learning venture.

Jewish Learning Institute, Chabad’s highly regarded adult education program with 250+ satellite locations, announced the development of a pilot version of JLI Online courses. By year's end, JLI is working to have approximately 40 hours of course content available online.

JLI made the leap to cyberspace because of the pervasive use of the Internet as a primary tool for learning about the world, and the advantages of the e-learning environment.

MySpace has over 106 million registered users as of one year ago. If MySpace were a country, it would be eleventh largest in the world between Japan and Mexico said Rabbi Berel Bell who is overseeing the project. 

“It is the Rebbe’s mandate to use modern technology to spread Jewish knowledge. We cannot afford to miss out on reaching these people."

JLI's courses have attracted 85,000 students worldwide because of the way information is presented. Along with teaching standbys–a lecturer and a textbook–JLI presents video clips, discussion breakouts, even music when appropriate as part of each lesson.

Students have likened the JLI experience to the charged atmosphere present in their most memorable college classes. Translating the richness of JLI to the web is a challenge that has kept the group from venturing into online courses until now. Online educational software matured rapidly as universities and corporations have capitalized on the web’s power to teach.

In 2004, 87% of four-year colleges offered distance-learning courses, up from 62% in 1998. Corporate e-learning is a $12 billion business. Today’s tools go far beyond fuzzy webcam mini-movies or corny PowerPoint graphics.

JLI Online will be adapting the software and environments that now train tomorrow’s MBA and powerbrokers into a tool for powerful Torah teaching. The JLI Online courses also adapt the best elements of the social aspects of the Internet. 

Like Wikipedia, the online user-created encyclopedia, the eLearning courses will be a local maven production. Chabad representatives already delivering the JLI classes will be the stars on the e-learning screens. In the spirit of YouTube, a capacity to pass the class along to friends will be built into the experience.

JLI Online will continue JLI's tradition as a dynamic, pedagogically sound and intellectually stimulating vehicle for Jewish growth, but now it will be available to a whole new group of people. Online, classes will begin whenever and wherever a person is ready to learn. This change welcomes the people interested in JLI’s gifts but are too far, too busy, or too physically challenged to attend a course.

Translating the JLI experience into a click-and-you’re-there site is also a way to reach the most vulnerable link in the chain of Jewish continuity – teens. A Pew Research Center survey published last month found 93% of all teens use the Internet. The dot-com generation is “much more likely to find Jewish learning online than to walk in the door of an unfamiliar Torah class,” said Rabbi Bell.

We are using e-learning as a bridge to reach people we cannot otherwise. We are hoping once people see there is something interesting here, then they will want to gain a personal connection and come through the door.

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