The Importance Of Communities For eLearning Success

Creating Communities For eLearning Success: Introduction

The regions of the United States with the highest rates of opioid and heroin addiction also happen to be those hardest-hit by economic recession and disruption. We’ve only recently begun to understand the connection between prescription opioids and heroin addiction, but it is increasingly clear that the former often precedes the latter. But it isn’t just chronic pain that is driving use of prescription painkillers; evidence suggests it is the sense of disconnect, of lost opportunity, of the dissolution of the traditional community in rural and remote parts of America, that is driving people to seek solace in drugs, both prescribed and otherwise.

Economic opportunity is a decent proxy for engagement across generations and community health as a whole, but the thing people in these areas are missing isn’t just wealth and growth — it is a support system, a social network they can leverage more easily and effectively than drugs or self-destructive behaviors. While the opioid crisis provides the most dramatic and extreme example, the fact is that the health and success of individuals depends heavily on the strength and resilience of the communities in which they have membership.

Fostering growth and engagement in any context requires community-building and preservation. Let us see why it is important to create communities for eLearning success.

eCommunities For eLearners

Community has been, perhaps, a somewhat neglected element of advancing eLearning solutions and systems. The conventional assumption ever since Facebook and other social media platforms erupted online is that the digital relationships and engagement between people using virtual tools can never match what used to happen in the real world.

Making the most of an online platform doesn’t mean replicating or even competing with “real world” relationships, but there are some unique considerations when developing and strengthening a sense of community.

For your eLearning platforms and programs, that means making room for learners that will likely come from very different generations, and possess very different values and expectations for community.

Millennial Learners

The online learning space Millennials are apt to prefer will tend to reflect the workplace cultures they like to be a part of. This means incorporating as much openness and flexibility within learning platforms as possible. Transparency is part of openness, but building trust also means being responsive to inquiry and encouraging feedback as much as possible. Fortunately, feedback in an eLearning environment can help reinforce lessons as well as segue into assessment and future lessons.

While gamification and mobile learning technologies offer great practicality and adaptability in terms of access to eLearning tools, these features alone do not provide much of a foundation for community-building. Unstructured time to allow questions, conversations, and personal contributions to the curriculum and to the class can help foster a sense of inclusion and engagement beyond normal learning activities.

For millennial eLearners, this flexibility of course and program structure can help increase buy-in and may be a critical way to make the learning community suit this younger generation’s needs.

Baby Boomer Learners

Millennials aren’t alone in valuing participation and inclusion, but they are often looking for a different form of involvement than their older counterparts. Baby boomers, especially in an eLearning context, need validation of their experiences and existing knowledge.

Memory and experience is an important foundation for ongoing learning, and finding ways for older learners to share their contexts is not only valuable for the individuals doing the sharing, but can create a relatable context for other learners as well. Allowing the time and space for students to add this kind of personal context can help engagement not only in lessons, but in utilizing your preferred eLearning tools.

Baby boomers can be at risk for focusing too much on specific, measurable outcomes or personal performance. While millennials value participation for its own sake, boomers are often conditioned to be more competitive or looking for the value-add of participation. Fostering a healthy, constructive learning community will require balancing these outlooks, and giving both groups opportunities to reflect on their learning, troubleshoot challenges, and identify applications for what they have learned, and still need to learn.

Celebrate Identity

Generational issues have become a major issue in modern organizations, but that is not at all the only way students will self-identify, or the only lens through which they will engage with lessons. Sensitivity to different notions of identity and group-membership can go a long way toward helping everyone participate in your learning programs, and feel a part of the learning community.

Cultural sensitivity in the learning community doesn’t mean political correctness. Engaging your students and making them feel valued as part of the community can be as simple as making informal sharing and conversation part of the process. Students, given the opportunity, will usually find a way to express what and how they want to contribute; instructors and course designers who are responsive to this communication will find their work better facilitates community-building as part of the learning experience.

Ultimately, people want to be respected and valued. They want to feel that their experiences and beliefs are relevant before they buy into any new learning opportunity or lesson. Creating a strong community, whether in the real world or in an online learning environment, simply means building trust through respect, listening and responding to feedback, and giving everyone the opportunity to find their own role to play as part of the greater team.

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