7 Tips To Support Online Learning Communities

7 Tips To Support Online Learning Communities
Summary: Online learning communities have the ability to connect your learners and make them feel like they are part of an effective peer network. In this article, I will share 7 tips to support online learning communities, so that you can give your learners the structure, support, and inspiration they need to improve their performance.

How To Support Online Learning Communities

An online learning community is the backbone of any successful eLearning program. It gives your learners an online platform to share their thoughts, questions, and concerns, and to receive the feedback they need to achieve their goals. However, in order to cultivate a strong corporate learning culture, it’s imperative to support your online learning communities on a continual basis. This can be challenging, as you must allow them to speak their mind and share their opinions, while still ensuring that everyone's voice is being heard and respected. Fortunately, there are 7 tips that can help you maintain a thriving online learning community.

  1. Make it a negativity-free space.
    Your online learning communities should be a positive, supportive virtual space where your learners can come to share their thoughts and gain insight from their peers. This is why it's essential to create a forum that is free of negativity, criticism, and judgment. Develop online community guidelines which emphasize that any inappropriate or mean-spirited users will promptly be removed. Let your learners know that you are available to discuss any issues they might have with another individual, or set up a flagging system which can call attention to those who violate your policies.
  2. Give them food for thought on a regular basis.
    It's a great idea to post a question or comment that triggers a meaningful online discussion. This is especially useful if you notice that your participants aren't active on a regular basis. Something as simple as a thought provoking question can spark a lively debate and give corporate learners the opportunity to see different viewpoints and expand their understanding. Just make sure that you don't become a major contributor to the online discussion, as the main goal is to turn passive observers into active online participants.
  3. Post additional online training resources.
    Make a point to post at least one link per week, or day, if you have the time, that highlights an eLearning article, video, or presentation that your corporate learners may find useful. For example, if you come across a helpful tutorial that walks them through a complicated task or an infographic that spotlights an industry trend, post the link on the online learning community forum so that they can access it quickly. This will help learners who are struggling, as well as those who excel and would like to research a topic on their own.
  4. Get personal.
    There is nothing worse than actively participating in an online forum, only to realize that the online moderator is consistently posting generic content. The secret is to let your learners know that you are a real person who cares about the online learning community. You want them to have the best possible online experience, even if that means that you have to set aside some time each day to address their concerns or questions. You may even want to encourage all of your members to introduce themselves when they join the online learning community, and provide them with a brief bio yourself.
  5. Welcome new members.
    Send every new member a welcome message and invite them to join the conversation whenever they feel comfortable. You may even want to start a new member FAQ or side discussion board that gives learners the opportunity to gradually integrate into the online learning community you've created. Make them aware of the guidelines and how they are expected to participate. For example, would you like to post at least once a week, or do they only need to post when you provide them with a prompt or question? If they need additional help, consider pairing them with a more experienced community member who can walk them through the process. You can also opt to divide them into smaller groups to facilitate more meaningful online discussions and collaborative eLearning activities.
  6. Set some ground rules.
    I've touched on online learning community guidelines earlier, but it deserves its own section. This is due to the fact that a set of well-written netiquette rules can help your learners get the most out of their online learning community participation. The main area to focus on is conflict resolution, especially if you are dealing with a larger group of learners who may have different beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and interests. Make them aware of how every member is expected to behave and how they should resolve conflicts and online disputes. For example, can they file a complaint via a contact form? Are you going to provide links to eLearning videos and presentations that help them to remedy the issue on their own, such as communication aids?
  7. Take control…but not too much.
    Your role is to foster and support your online learning community, but not to take total control over every post and interaction. The mistake that some online moderators make is trying to oversee every aspect of their group page or forum. In many respects, you have to take a backset to your learners, while still being there to offer them guidance and keep the online discussion on-topic. This means striking a delicate balance, which is no easy feat. After all, you don't want your online learning community straying off on tangents regularly. Likewise, you want to be sure that they feel empowered and have the freedom to speak their mind.

Supporting your online learning communities should be an ongoing practice, as this will ensure that your learners have a solid online platform to share their ideas and address their concerns. So, try to set aside time each day, if possible, to focus on cultivating your online learning community, welcoming new members, and sparking meaningful online discussions.

Are you interested in creating a community of practice for your corporate learners? Read the article Top 10 Tips To Create a Corporate Learning Community of Practice to learn how to improve performance and encourage collaboration within your organization.