The importance of building a community around online education continues to grow. What has also contributed to this is the global pandemic. In a matter of weeks, many schools, universities, and educational service organizations have moved their operations to the Internet, facing the challenge of providing effective learning using instant messaging and online systems. After some time, it became clear that paying attention to building and maintaining relationships among students was key. Today we will try to answer the questions concerning the importance of community in online education in its broadest sense, how it affects the effectiveness of learning and what tools are used to build it. Let’s take a look!
How did it all start?
In the past, when Internet access was limited, people would meet in person to learn together and develop their interests. This was done, for example, in school special interests clubs or thematic groups in community centers. With the development of technology came new options for creating developmental and supportive communities, such as IRC and online forums, where many questions could be answered and experiences shared. Over time, online forums have been replaced by social media and dedicated educational websites and platforms, allowing users to connect with others. Thanks to this evolution, today, we have an unprecedented opportunity to be members of online communities created to develop our personal and professional competencies.
What is an online community?
Certainly, each of us is part of many communities, starting with family, friends, co-workers, and people with whom we share common interests. At various stages of life, we also belong to communities centered around our education, in schools or universities. Thanks to technology and the ability to communicate almost unlimitedly with people from all over the world, we also belong to online communities such as those interested in the topics of UX design, photography, gardening, dance, and many more.
In the latter case, we share common interests and goals and use instant messaging and online tools to communicate. Let’s focus on the online communities built by companies and educators for shared competency and knowledge development.
What are the characteristics of such communities?
Their primary purpose is to bring together people who want to develop their skills and gain knowledge around a specific topic. We are talking about professional and personal development in a broad sense.
Whatever tools are used, communities are properly managed and moderated to create a comfortable and structured environment for asking questions, sharing experiences, as well as seeking and offering support.
The exchange of information and transfer of knowledge is not a one-sided interaction. The process of building user involvement makes the community itself a driving force; most importantly, it is alive and responds dynamically to the emerging needs and changes in the environment.
Networking and encouraging users to work together and collaborate is also important aspect. The reciprocal involvement of the community (both its users and education providers, trainers, teachers, specialists in a given area) supports the success of each individual.
It is worth noting that belonging to an online community reflects a natural human need: Living in a group and the need for contact with other people. Especially when we consider smaller communities, we observe that people feel at ease, safe, and comfortable in these communities, which promotes effective knowledge acquisition and skill training.
We can also see that loyalty and partnership in shared learning translate into building lasting online and offline relationships. Why is this happening? The answer is simple! There is nothing stopping you from bringing up personal topics within the development groups as well. This is where lasting acquaintanceships and sometimes beautiful friendships come from between people who have met… on the Internet!
10 benefits of community in online learning
- An online community reflects a natural principle of our lives: living in groups.
- Interactions among people provide a space to share knowledge and experiences.
- The opportunity to gain practical knowledge and learn about the experiences of professionals in different fields is invaluable.
- The diversity of the group (beginners and advanced learners) allows it to complement one another naturally.
- Creating specific repositories of knowledge that can be used by the entire community.
- Enhancing learning by forming support groups around a single topic.
- Building a company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace.
- Contributing to the online community is easier for those who dislike public speaking and are less adventurous.
- Learning about different perspectives on a topic by bringing together people from different industries, cultural backgrounds, and countries.
- Building relationships and making friends online and offline.
Let’s take a look at some examples…
A community around online education can be built in many ways. The idea to create a Slack Community for Product Managers came from the creators of Product School, a product management training provider. A private channel on Slack allows you to connect with thousands of Product Managers from around the world. Networks are built globally and locally, and mutual support can be obtained, for example, during weekly “Ask Me Anything” sessions.
How do you follow your students and improve their performance with online tools? Dr. Wendy Tietz, a professor at Kent State University, found the answer to this question by connecting with students through social media. She decided to be where they are and use the power of platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat to build relationships with students and share many practical examples from her life.
Another example of creating and developing online communities are mastermind groups for online educators that replace traditional staff room meetings. Mastermind groups not only allow participants to listen to each other and provide support but also provide space for giving advice and sharing insights. Online educators can share ideas and observations about communicating knowledge remotely by working in the same field. Celebrating successes together and providing support during more difficult career moments is also a huge benefit.
Is it worth creating a learning community around a brand?
A company called Pani Swojego Czasu has created a club called Klub PSC, a subscription-based development space for women. Using a dedicated platform that includes thematic expert tracks and a Facebook group, it is building an engaged community whose asset is mutual support in personal and professional development. The interaction between users, experts, and moderators of Klub PSC, allows to maintain the dynamics of the community but also to create a comfortable environment for sharing experiences, observations, and knowledge.
What is the benefit to the brand of building a community around online education in the broadest sense? Resources invested in creating, moderating, and growing your community allow you to grow your business and increase your revenue. Members not only pay to subscribe to the platform but often purchase other products as well. They themselves also engage in the development of the community, e.g., by recommending the platform to other users or acting as brand ambassadors. A group of satisfied customers who self-recommend joining a development group and recount their progress since joining the platform is a great accolade for the brand and a sign of trust.
Collaborative learning and belonging to a community focused on a specific goal and topic allow you to learn from others (including professionals and experts) and quickly gain new knowledge and experiences. Using chat rooms, virtual training programs, or dedicated learning platforms provides support on many levels: from personal development to the development of career paths and professional life. The ease of accessing knowledge and being part of a larger group is at your fingertips. Don’t hesitate, act!