Monday, 11 July 2011

Being in a Learning Community - It's more than signing up!

Dennis Callahan (@denniscallahan) has posted a series on about the need for learners to take charge of their own learning process.  He draws similarities between joining a gym and our learning - the need not just to watch (lurk?), but also the need to get involved and gain experience.  All that is undoubtedly true.

Also true is his assertion that when we enter the social media assisted learning space "we have identity,,,,,,we have space...... and (to a degree) we have commitment".  However what is not true is that belonging and participating means that we are growing the communities which we have voluntarily joined.

Committed and even organised we may be in our approach to learning, but the best will only come when we make the effort to get the best out of our new community friends.

Yes, we need to have the courage to take the first steps and to share, even to make ourselves vulnerable by asking the question that is real to us but which we suspect may seem very innocent or naive to others. how many times have I heard people say "I had that question too but was scared to ask it in case I looked stupid"?  there are no such things as stupid questions - only silly answers!

I believe that there is one more step we need to take.  In community, there is no difference between us as human beings - we all have needs, experience and ideas.  Some have more in one area than in another and therein lies the power of community - but the trick is how to get that power released in order to optimise the learning available.

If we see  our virtual and social media driven learning communities as composed of anonymous addresses that might respond in some way to a post or a question, then that is all they will remain.  The quality of response will match the question - and no more.  However if we begin to see the address as a warm caring human sharing our interests and treat them as such then we stand a chance of them warming to us and going the extra mile in sharing.  If we are able to share a little of ourselves (and I do not mean the meaningless drivel that gets the SoMe such a bad name in some places) and if we take a moment to shape our posts, Tweets etc in ways that acknowledge each others humanity, then we are subtly inviting others to go the extra mile.  Many will do so, sadly, some will not.

Is this kind of respect and human care and warmth the answer to the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who will not involve themselves in a learning community (virtual or F2F) because they "do not feel valued for their contribution"?  There are very few parents who will not give everything they can to help their children. We need to tap into the same emotional energy in working in our communities.


  1. I personally find it difficult to sustain my engagement in online communities. I'll join a lot of communities, but unless I am able to identify a clear goal for myself or quickly understand how I can possibly contribute something of value, I'll drift away and find things to do that have more immediate value. I don't have time to just hang around 10 different communities. Is that selfish? Excessively utilitarian? Should I just focus my interests and focus my attention on one or two communities and commit to sustained engagement rather than a hit-and-run approach? I'm struggling to find a way to manage all this efficiently, but you're suggesting that perhaps one real connection with another human being is worth more than 100 posts that don't touch anyone. Blogging here about knowledge management.

  2. Another point to note, Nic, is that a person's continual involvement in an online community will often depend on the response he/she gets to his/her initial comments. If the community is seen as one in which a small group of "insiders" primarily communicate among themselves, there won't be much incentive for the newbie to do anything but lurk. Of course, this isn't necessarily bad - cf Lave and Wenger's concept of "legitimate peripheral participation." But it probably places a ceiling on growth.

  3. Barbara Thanks for the comment. Yes, that is what I am saying. It relates to what Hal is saying also. If we feel valued then we are likely to hang around. If the content is then appealing the community becomes part of our way of life - at least while its relevance remains. I am also saying that the feelings of value and belonging are far more important than the sometimes unseemly scramble to get into each new community that is conceived simply because we are scared we will miss something!

  4. Hal. You are so right! I have been deeply involved with the start-up of 2 communities this year that are at this point successful. Their initiations, by the same well known person, were quite different. At the start of one, each newbie was personally welcomed to the community, asked to say something about themselves and urged to start sharing and ask questions. The community grew rapidly and the level of involvement was way above the 90:9:1 rule - and has largely remained so as the community has grwon beyond 88 people and is now pretty much self-sustaining. The initiator put huge effort into the early stages of that community.

    By contrast, the same person, diverted by other matters in the first week of its life, launched the second community but did not welcome people - and wondered after a week why there was little activity happening. Realising the error, everyone was contacted and welcomed etc - and behold, the community has taken off to over 600 members.

    The lesson is quite clear. I blogged about the causes of the first community's success (

    Your comment about the community of insiders is also so true. My own experience - invited to join a community of eminent people, not welcomed to the community, saw that they just chatted amongst themselves - result, I don't participate!