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Welcome to our third issue of articles and perspectives marked, we believe, by some sophisticated and unique reflections on a key dimension of learning in this New Economy: design and the learner experience. As before, we bring you thoughts and insights unburdened by breathless hype and predictable rhetoric. As before, our goal has been to challenge, explore the white spaces, and cross standard boundaries—but to do so in an authentic and sincere way. Let us know if you think we have succeeded.

Two recent experiences I had remind me how difficult it is to pursue such a mission in today’s world. The first came when I returned home from Elliot Masie’s annual learning industry convention (TechLearn2000) with a gift piece of luggage. This wheeled red satchel (emblazoned with TechLearn’s logo) was jam packed with brochures, trinkets, gadgets, and other marketing paraphernalia (T-shirts, note pads, flashlights, calendars, et al), all intended to catch my attention about this or that company’s “distinctive approach to e-learning.” As I unzipped the satchel, and pulled out the brochures and marketing trinkets (to the amazement of my children standing by), I was struck by how crowded, how complicated, how competitive the quest to gain my attention by e-learning providers has become. “Please, here” cried this logo-ed flashlight; “No, me first,” responded another vendor’s calendar. “I’m better than both of them,” demanded the snazzy T-shirt.

Surrounded by all the gifts and collateral (as our marketing friends call it), I sat on my living room floor and just got depressed. In front of me was literally the latest very heavy baggage of the elearning revolution. None of the intended messages behind any of the material pitches were necessarily malicious or wrong; there were just so many of them. Where to begin?

A few days later, my second bout of depression ensued. Renee Dye, a former colleague of McKinsey, had just published a crisp and thoughtful piece in the Harvard Business Review, on, of all things, the strategy of “buzz.” In her coolly analytical way, Dye laid out what we’ve all known or been suspecting for some time: that more and more companies systematically and ingeniously manipulate opinions, feelings, and excitement of consumers—buzz—to foster increased sales and shape tastes to their specific revenue objectives. That “buzz” had become a suitable topic of the Harvard Business Review in itself tells you a lot about where we have come.

Launched in the early days of elearning and the vertiginous stock market of the dot.com gold rush, LiNE Zine has arguably been a big-time candidate for marketing baggage and buzz. Surprise!… it’s not really our thing. Yeah, we’ve given away some T-shirts and other logo-ed stuff, and yeah, we like it when readers tell their friends about us and our URL. At the end of the day, however, buzz and baggage is not what we’re about, and it’s defiantly not what we’re trying to be.  Our success doesn’t depend on them—nor do we want it to.

Our mission is to provide another set of voices and perspectives than those you find in all the marketing hype; above the fray, not dependent on free flashlights. If buzz follows in our trail, it will only be because we’ve earned it instead of planting it. Our only real promise to you is to sketch out, converse about, and make sense of the difficult and intriguing landscape of learning in a very rapidly changing world is. But it’s heartfelt, and has no strings attached.

To our pride and delight, that promise continues to be well received. Our readership growth marches upward, not only in size but also in breadth. Since LiNE Zine’s launch in June of this year, our site has been accessed by over 60,000 visitors, spanning the globe with an increasing array of international readers, representing 58 countries. We are also pleased at how quickly we have become a reference site for many companies’ research and news capabilities, with our URL being posted and promoted on intranets in such esteemed organizations as Andersen Consulting and on other high impact sites such as Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge site. The value of sponsorships is only increasing as we ascend new heights; I’d be delighted to hear from any readers interested in pursuing such opportunities (brook@linezine.com).

Looking ahead, we have some exciting new issues in our pipeline, with themes cutting across and above the murmur of the trade magazines you think you ought to read but never get to. In the coming months we’ll jump into the fast-emerging “new-new” concept of human capital management and explore what, if any, role the new learning plays within it. Come summer, we’ll offer our signature counter-intuitive perspective on another cliché of the New Economy: continuous learning, but with a special focus on the work-life balance of knowledge workers.

T-shirts will be available, but are not required.

Winter 2001

Brook Manville, Publisher

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