People join online communities expecting to learn in a safe environment where they can feel seen, known, and accepted.
They benefit from being a part of a supportive place where people work together to accomplish a goal. And there are so many advantages:
- The community can help its members learn and grow.
- Teachers can address groups rather than individuals.
- Answering questions in the group means everyone benefits.
While all these advantages (and more) are fantastic, creating a learning-focused community isn’t easy. That’s why we have compiled seven tips for building a successful online learning community.
- What Is an Online Learning Community?
- 1. Establish a Clear Goal and Purpose
- 2. Build a Community on Your Website
- 3. Establish a Learning Environment
- 4. Develop Engaging and Relevant Content
- 5. Encourage Participation and Interaction
- 6. Monitor Progress and Provide Feedback
- 7. Celebrate Success and Acknowledge Achievements
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is an Online Learning Community?
An online learning community is an online space where your students can get answers to their questions, check in for accountability, or obtain tools and resources. Many edupreneurs host these digital organizations on LinkedIn, Facebook, messaging apps, or a community website.
Online communities allow you to go beyond providing a course. You can provide a place where people can ask questions, show their work, get feedback, and support each other.
A Holistic Approach to a Learning Ecosystem
Online communities support users in six different ways. However, not all these elements are present in every community. Instead, select the ones that most apply to your topic and students.
Here are the six categories:
- Structured learning: This is simply the course or curriculum you provide. It may also include mini-courses on an as-needed basis.
- Motivation: This is instrumental in helping students move forward through difficult steps. Gamified elements, like badging or a leaderboard, can help with motivation.
- Cheat sheets and templates: These shortcuts let online learners get started quickly. They’re designed to help people gain quick wins and are rarely used long-term.
- References: These could be a single page, a book, or a list of websites. One of the most common references used is microlearning videos.
- Access to experts: This often means students have access to the teacher or other experts.
- Networking and collaboration: These allow students to discuss what they learned, ask for feedback from each other, and offer peer-to-peer learning.
Consider which elements provide the support your students need. Generally, you don’t want to create more than is necessary. That has the disadvantage of creating unnecessary work and risks, overwhelming your audience.
1. Establish a Clear Goal and Purpose
Before beginning, you must have a clear goal and purpose for your online community. Be sure that you can answer these questions before moving forward:
- What does success look like for my students?
- What will they be able to do, think, or feel differently as a result of this community?
- What are the biggest barriers to a student’s success?
- What resources and tools can help them overcome these barriers?
- What are the biggest motivators for a student’s success?
- How can we place greater visibility on these motivators?
- Will unlimited access be less motivating or more motivating?
Apart from these, you need to consider whether you’re building a community for one single course or your entire online school. Everything from your community’s focus to branding will depend on this.
2. Build a Community on Your Website
Creating a group on Facebook or LinkedIn is easy and could be a manageable first step. Still, it limits you in three significant ways:
- These online platforms have ongoing notifications that can distract your students.
- Not everyone is on Facebook or LinkedIn (or wants to be).
- You don’t own the platform, and your group or content could vanish.
A better long-term option is to choose a platform designed for online learning communities. While our top recommendations are Mighty Networks and Circle, you can see our comparison of the best online community platforms to find one that works best for you.
Ness Labs is an example of a learning community with a private platform. The community is hosted on Circle, which takes care of all the important aspects of engagement, like creating discussions, organizing content, moderating community members, and much more.
3. Establish a Learning Environment
Considering that each community has its own feel, it’s vital in an online learning community to foster an environment that leans into learning. Otherwise, there’s a risk that students will show up and socialize.
While socialization is desirable, you don’t want that to compete with the primary purpose of the community—learning.
One of the best ways to prioritize learning is to establish your presence as an educator and the leader of the learning process. When you show up, learning happens. You can challenge their work, offer feedback, and answer relevant questions.
When students ask questions, it can feel heroic to sweep in and impress them with your knowledge. However, it’s best if you don’t answer every question. Here are two familiar situations where refraining from answering is the best way to encourage learning.
- If a question can be answered by tools and resources in your community, like a mini course, direct them to that tool or resource. This supports an inclination toward learning where students search for answers before asking.
- If your student asks questions that are covert attempts to delay action, be willing to challenge their reasons for asking. Often it’s tied to fear and not lack of knowledge.
4. Develop Engaging and Relevant Content
Engaging your community is important because learning can’t occur without attention. You want to provide two types of content: fixed and short-lived.
- Fixed content is relevant content that is best accessed using stable links.
- Short-lived content is interesting and captures attention.
Fixed content includes permanent tools and resources that support learning, like templates, mini-courses, and references. You’ll want to organize these in a way that makes them easy for students to find.
Consider making tools and resources findable rather than just searchable. If students struggle to find them, they won’t use them.
Short-lived content is novel and grabs attention. These remind students of essential principles, reiterate mottos, and redirect attention to their purpose. These can often provide motivation and change mindsets.
Short-lived content can include memes, easy-to-answer questions or polls, or inspirational thoughts.
5. Encourage Participation and Interaction
People learn when they’re more actively engaged. They learn best when they explain their actions, provide feedback to peers, or help someone else understand a concept.
This is one of the reasons you’ll want to select a community platform that makes it easy for members to interact. Many platforms make these behaviors visible with gamification and badges.
Whenever you post, be willing to use tags, ask questions that draw out their thinking, and redirect questions to other members.
Whenever you see someone ask a great question or comment on someone else’s post, give specific praise about what they asked or stated. For more ideas to engage your community, check out these ideas and strategies for community engagement.
6. Monitor Progress and Provide Feedback
One of the most challenging aspects of learning is participating in a try-fail cycle. This is where people attempt to apply what they’ve learned and risk failing. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying a new tae kwon do move or sending out your first bulk email. Fear of failure keeps many from success.
Because failure can be paralyzing, it’s crucial to monitor ongoing performance and continually provide feedback. Progress—even the progress of trying and failing—is a usual and ordinary learning experience. In fact, students often learn more from mistakes and failures than from successes.
When you build an online learning community, it can be beneficial to normalize failure as a part of progress. As long as you provide feedback and make each failure a learning experience, your learners will be on the right track. You continue to encourage learners to keep moving forward despite the risks.
7. Celebrate Success and Acknowledge Achievements
Celebrating successes helps your students savor their accomplishments. Your students’ positive results and progress reinforce their reasons to continue learning and cross the finish line. And, as an educator, it feels good to see them win.
It has so many benefits for you and your community:
- Motivating the community as they witness what is possible
- Demonstrating the value of your learning community
- Providing testimonials for social proof
When you consider how the successes of your current students can persuade existing and new students to achieve these results, it can provide a ripple effect of positive impact.
Some community platforms provide fantastic ways to offer rewards and recognition. This recognition could look like a certificate, a badge, monetary or tangible prizes, or bragging rights. And it doesn’t have to cost much to implement.
Several surveys have shown that managers more effectively motivate employees to go above and beyond using recognition rather than monetary rewards. If that’s true of an employee at work, what do you think persuasive recognition can do for your audience?
Building an online learning community can significantly impact your students’ results.
Because it’s more comprehensive than a course, it offers a complete ecosystem for student success. Since learning often results in failed attempts, the community can serve as a sort of laboratory where people encourage others and receive encouragement in return.
It’s also a fantastic way for you to have a greater impact on your students and their results.
So, what will your online learning community look like?
Share your comments and questions below.