Five factors influencing engagement with online learning communities.

Originally published in e.learning age Magazine, February 2014. In the latest interview in Brightwave’s Learning Skylines series with e.learning age, Charles Gould explores five factors that influence the success of online learning communities.

“Learning does not just take place in formal interventions – it is a continuum. […] it is time to recognise the importance of supporting staff in the heart of the workflow.”

(Towards Maturity 2013-14 Benchmark, The New Learning Agenda)

1. Recognise learning happens all the time

Learning at work, as a distinct activity, has become increasingly woven into the fabric of our working lives – as opposed to a separate event. With the rise and rise of social media we have the opportunity to support people to direct their own learning rather than treat them as passive consumers of pre-designed information pushed down at them.

2. Understand learner expectations online

Recognise the difference between informal, social media and collaborative media around a shared goal or purpose. If you set up a social media platform, be clear about its purpose. Is it a completely open forum which allows comments and discussions about anything without intervention, e.g. Yammer? Or is it positioned around a particular subject or group? How much direction does it need? Are you incorporating more formal learning content?

3. Good enough is not good enough

A formal learning intervention tends to be a course shaped for a particular audience and designed to meet pre-defined learning objectives before being pushed out. At this point the main role of L&D is done, bar perhaps some awareness- raising. The learner is expected to do little beyond show up, sit back and – hopefully – pay attention. Developing an online learning community depends on a much more productive involvement – otherwise it will fail. Though just the start, the technology platform needs to excel at user experience. Curating, moderating and coaching then become centre-stage.

4. Look to the future

Is Facebook history? Is IM overtaking SMS? How will the next generation workforce operate socially online? The technology offered by employers has slipped behind what we take for granted outside work. But that’s no excuse to ignore emergent trends in online behaviour. Today’s workforce expects to learn in a way that mirrors how they discover and connect with information in their recreational time.

5. Foster a culture of contribution

“Be fluid with the rules, build them collaboratively, but ensure that they are clear. Tread a fine line around moderation, especially in the growth phase. Too heavy handed and you will just end up with a static and sterile site.” (from Exploring the World of Social Learning by Julian Stodd)

It’s tempting to believe that a high profile launch, a nod from senior management and a shiny new technology platform will be enough to generate a successful learning community. But so that it doesn’t wither and die, it needs to be based on a culture of collaboration and sharing and requires ongoing nurturing to sustain it.

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