Seek and You Shall Find

April 16, 2019

Source:  eJewish Philanthropy 


A few months ago, my friend and colleague Josh Miller from the Jim Joseph Foundation asked me to share my thoughts about a new research report, now titled The Future of Jewish Learning Is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish Education, by Prof Ari Kelman et al. As I read through this interesting paper, writing notes and comments to myself, I suddenly understood: engaging in Jewish learning online is now “a thing!” Just as one can engage with sports, obtain financial information, get updated on current events and prepare oneself with regard to traffic and weather all by surfing the internet – one can study Jewish topics. What this research demonstrates, in multiple ways, following different personal stories and use cases, is the very fact that many people find content relevant to their Jewish life online. It is no longer one anecdote, and it is not just to look up candle lighting times or prayer service hours. You can learn Torah online.

Kelman’s research tells us that, similar to how users consume other information on the web, Jewish content is used because people do not always want to go through the “traditional.” In this instance, that means avoiding asking rabbis, going to Jewish institutions, etc. They want “self-service,” just as people now buy a plane ticket online without using a travel agent. Cutting out the middleman is part of this generation, like it or not. This in turn means that the community, developers, funders, and Jewish communal personnel, should not feel insulted for not being approached personally. Rather, they should build excellent Jewish experiences online that at some point may lead to deeper connections and actual real–life meetings face to face.

It is therefore no surprise that we also learn from this research that users appreciate a smooth, slick and inspiring experience on the web. This is not unique to those seeking Jewish content. For many, “design” may seem more important than the content itself. Some people care how things look almost as much, if not more than, what’s inside. People use pictures to send messages both privately (for example: instead of sending a text to your friend saying you found their car keys under the sofa you just send them a picture) and publicly (Instagram). A picture is worth a thousand words not because it conveys more information but rather because it also carries some emotional weight.

After reading the research, I see a need to develop more digital opportunities for Jewish experiences and learning, as well as to broaden the existing ones. People find the platforms that fit their needs, so we better provide excellent platforms. When they feel it is appropriate, they find the way to share what they learn and experience, digitally or IRL (in real life). People select platforms, not the other way. So platform creators need to set their priorities, deeply considering what they want the user to get out of the digital product as they design the project so that it fits the desired experiences. UX is crucial. When designing or revamping a website, it should not only be about the content; presentation and the way the content can be used – mobile, desktop or midsized screens – matters greatly. Both creators and funders should focus on the emotional engagement – the design – as it is not only a feature, it may be just as significant as the content.

Finally, Jewish learning online should not only be understood in the context of “connection and collaboration,” as important as those opportunities are and as the report makes clear is an integral component of online learning. However, some people choose to learn from the web specifically because they do not have to connect in order to do so. Learning can be social, but it is not only social. Leaders and developers of digital Jewish learning experiences should have in mind both types of learning when creating new content.

In this research, users of a group of ten diverse websites were interviewed. I hope that in a few years, such research will be done with many more sites, because there will be many more Jewish experiences online that would provide information and connect future generations, helping users engage with Jewish content.

Read the entire article on eJewish Philanthropy

Updated: May. 01, 2019