In Part 1 of this series, Getting started, we explored ways an online learning community can benefit your business and learners, and how to start implementing one.

Having an engaged online learning community around your business not only establishes you as a thought leader but also adds business development value and brand recognition.

Being an active part of an online community will create a sense of belonging and camaraderie amongst your learners, motivate them to “up their game”, and can encourage learning beyond formal learning hours.

In Part 2 we’ll help you realise those benefits by establishing your authority within the community, directing learners’ efforts, and working towards minimising conflict.

 

Designate an online community manager

An online community manager (or group of people) is responsible for:

  • Setting up the strategy
  • Picking the right online platform
  • Developing the experience
  • Moderating the tone and content

 

In smaller organisations, online community managers may do everything themselves, while in larger organisations they may only oversee strategy and planning.

Whether it’s you or a professional you’ve hired, the online community manager needs to know the right tone to use, how to interact with moderators and participants, and how to appropriately handle conflict situations.

Here is a list of 5 things you should look for in an online community manager:

  1. They remain calm and collected in any situation
  2. They can manoeuvre through organisational constraints and become champions of change
  3. They get along with others, but never at the cost of the community and its needs
  4. They understand the ins and outs of the profession’s legal and ethical constraints, as well as the people who work within it and are members of the community
  5. They can analyse performance data and detect patterns useful for making necessary changes

(Speyer, 2021)

 

Get other employees on board

Having more people in your organisation engaged in community discourse, training mentors or supporting the online learning community in other ways, boosts company morale and creates a sense of comradery within your organisation.

More people from your organisation contributing creates a more engaging experience for the community members who might want to talk directly with people in different teams.

Your employees can also gather feedback that can improve product development, test new ideas for upcoming features, or get a better understanding of how members actually use the community and whether it fulfils its purpose.

 

Establish the tutor’s presence

A tutor or instructor’s presence is required as a way to facilitate learning activities and, more importantly, to serve as an authority figure. Someone who oversees the interactions and the language used in the communities and is the final arbiter of any conflicts.

An initial message is a good way to introduce a tutor. In it, they can:

  1. Introduce the purpose and mission of the community
  2. Shed light on their background and suitability for the position
  3. Convey a sense of enthusiasm about the course
  4. Outline the code of conduct and consequences for breaking it
  5. Establish expectations from the members
  6. Encourage members to contact each other, pos/comment, and share resources
  7. Indicate availability for questions and communication
  8. Provide information about the community’s authority structure – who the assistants or community leaders are in the tutor’s absence (more on ‘community leaders’ below)

(adapted from Raouna, 2022)

The tone of this message should be professional, yet approachable.

In the initial message, make sure to include a picture of yourself.

 

Set ground rules and monitor them

Make sure everyone who enters the community is made aware of the proper code of conduct for the group, including:

  • How the platform should be used,
  • What members can expect from the community
  • What kind of tone and behaviour is appropriate,
  • How inappropriate content or conflicts are settled, etc.

A set of standard rules allows you to moderate effectively by preventing off-topic discussions from derailing the discourse and having ground rules to refer to if members raise concerns about levels of moderation.

When enforcing the rules, you should be firm and consistent. Remove inappropriate content immediately but do it with respect to the community member as they may not have realised they were breaking the rules.

Be mindful that too much policing could disrupt an open debate but too little could frustrate and discourage serious learners.

One thing to always remember is that regardless of how mature the members may be, all it takes is a handful of “irresponsibles” to thwart the goals of the community.

 

Appoint community leaders

The role of the leader is to keep the community in order and also to encourage members to participate in a meaningful way (Pappas, 2016).

Becoming a leader should be voluntary, as it takes time and involvement. Those individuals must love the subject and want to support their peers.

They can monitor the discussions and make sure they are up to the code of conduct. Another function they need to perform is to defuse conflict situations by privately messaging members involved to calm them down.

The role of the community leader also includes keeping members informed and getting honest feedback.

 

Let’s sum it all up…

For effective community growth and development, a code of conduct and hierarchy of authority should be established so every member knows who the manager, the tutors, the moderators and the community leaders are.

Good practice when first starting an online learning community is appointing a manager to oversee the strategy and make decisions.

However, the manager should not be the only person responsible for the development of the community – other employees should also be involved as their presence can enrich the member experience.

The tutors should establish a presence of authority, professionalism but also approachability.

Finally, community leaders are there as a bridge between the users and management, as well as helping with conflict resolution.

 

To be continued…

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the development of effective and engaged online learning communities.

The series includes:

Part 1 – Getting started

Part 3 – Driving engagement (Coming soon)

 

Thank you for reading and until next time!

 

References