Learning communities provide opportunities for groups of individuals to come together to learn from one another. Online learning communities, by their very nature can support far wider and deeper participation than has been possible before with content-based e-learning. However, if formal online learning communities are simply “bolted-on” - as an after thought to existing e-learning content – then they don’t tend to work that well, if at all, since learners don’t like moving back and forth from content to community.
The most effective online learning communities tend to be those where any content is well integrated within the community or is co-created by the community members, and where the emphasis is placed much more on the interactions, sharing and conversations between the participants. Content provided by the instructor or trainer might be used to set up the framework for discussions and interactions. See FACILITATING COLLABORATIVE LEARNING.
Formal learning communities are set up primarily for members to learn from one another within the context of a formal course, they might evolve into a community of practice, so that the community members can go on to support one another after a training event – when they are back doing their job.
Professional online learning communities also provide valuable experiences for learning from one’s peers about a topic of interest. The community might be based around a daily or weekly discussion topic, or alternatively the group itself might just be set up for continuous sharing of resources, ideas and experiences around a subject. Such type of learning communities also don’t need to be set up top-down (by L&D departments), rather, groups of individuals with a common interest in learning about a topic might build their own community where they can hold discussions and share what they know with one another.
Remember, that even if you build learning communities, you can’t force people to “be social” – only encourage them to do so, and that social activity (posts, comments etc) does not constitute learning. Also that non-participation (aka lurking) does not mean that they are not learning.
Social Tools & Platforms
There are a number of tools that can provide the technological infrastructure for online learning communities
- INSTRUCTIONAL tools - where the focus is on “managing” social training, ie formal social learning
- ENTERPRISE SOCIAL COLLABORATION PLATFORMS – where the focus is on the social interaction, and which support the full continuum of social learning in the organization.
- Public social media tools for members to CONNECT & CONVERSE with one another, SHARE knowledge, experiences and resources, CURATE CONTENT from different sources, CREATE & SHARE CONTENT as well as COLLABORATE with one another.