Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ning Eliminates Free Networks...we think

Today, Ning's new COO, Jason Rosenthal, sent an email to his staff which was then shared with external news sources and now has many educators and non-profits (including me) feeling a little upside down.  The memo stressed that the company would be eliminating its free services, which many in the business of learning have embraced with love and admiration in recent years.

I've shared many presentations about the effectiveness of enhancing a cold, flat online LMS learning experience with the dynamic, interconnectedness of Ning's community-oriented networks.  I have trained dozens of faculty on how to create a free Ning, customize it and facilitate the community effectively to foster participatory learning through blogging, forums and groups. seems that the dream may be over.  We will need to wait and see, while Ning works through the details and (fingers crossed) contemplates how important they are to education, as teachers continue to strive to change the glacier of pedagogical tradition to better meet the needs of our 21st century students. 

Ning, we need you on our side.

I've thought a lot about this issue today before I sat down to write this post.  Aside from truly loving the Ning product and thinking about all the amazing feedback and comments I have received (and still receive) from past students, I've found a really important lesson in this.  Web 2.0 feels more validated than ever in education as I watch others cringe at the thought of letting go their free Nings.  Secondly, I'm sure many are thinking about Ning's decision as a logical, business move.  And, on the one hand, you're right.  But I'm left feeling a bit duped.  As web 2.0 permeates and revolutionizes our society, our culture has moved towards one of sharing and openness.  Open educational resources abound.  Creative Commons continues to remodel our traditional notions of copyright and encourage more sharing of content in support of enhancing creative expression in the world. Podcasts and YouTube provide resources for free that we could never have dreamed about just a few years ago.

To me, I have always viewed Ning as a symbol of this cultural shift into sharing and openness.  Education needs this shift to continue to pick up momentum to allow us to change and innovate and inspire others to join in.  A part of me feels optimistic that Ning will continue to provide free networks to educators (K-12 and higher education) and non-profits.  Then I have these moments of fleeting reality checks...I suppose it's the face of capitalism I am seeing. 

This is truly a learning moment for us all.  We need to reflect on all that we've learned from Ning, all that it has given us as educators, all the amazingly participatory and community-oriented learning experiences students have received, and all that we've learned through the Nings we've joined.  Ning, for me, has been a haven of sharing and support. 

Finally, I'm left worried about how this business decision, if it is in fact implemented, will create more of a rift between public and private educational learning experiences.  I am thinking now about the amazing mobile learning initiatives in play at Abilene Christian University and Seton Hall -- where students receive free iPods and interact on the university's mobile learning app.  Community college students, at least in California, won't be engaged in such activities as our colleges continue to shut the doors to tens of thousands of more students next year, in response to budget cuts.  Web 2.0 is an opportunity to engage a community in a new wave of socialization and learning.  I must remain hopeful that Ning will support sharing and openness for educators. 

What are your thoughts?  Speak them now and be sure Ning hears them ( 
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