The very nature of learning is social. Our earliest form of learning comes from interacting with our parents, families, and friends, and this theme carries on throughout our school days. But it comes to a grinding halt in the workplace. That’s to everyone’s detriment, as building a community around your workplace learning can help your people reinforce what they’ve learned, learn new things from their peers, and engage with your organization’s L&D program.

Online learning communities are rising in popularity as a way to unite people and further the cause of learning. They enable people to discover new skills to learn, recommend resources to their colleagues, and share an experience that transcends beyond what’s actually being learned. Indeed, employees are seeking out more ways to learn from their peers. Over half (55%) of employees have first turned to their peers when needing to learn a new skill.

The importance of community

Having an active learning community is even more important in the current times. Unfortunately, 41% of us are feeling lonely and isolated during the ongoing pandemic and consequent social distancing. Tapping into a community of like-minded learners can help to alleviate some of this. Furthermore, many organizations are continuing to work remotely, so having an online community for your workforce can help to create a common purpose and unite your teams. In a physical workspace, there are many formal and informal interactions happening across the day. Online communities can help to mirror this, creating a space for people to swap their learnings, recommend new things, and explore topic areas outside of their role.

Additional benefits of learning communities

A strong learning community also provides greater opportunities for feedback and collaboration on learning resources. People have greater freedom to upskill in the areas that interest them or even create new learning pathways when they spot a gap in your organization’s resources. They also gain the flexibility to log into the community and learn at a time and place that suits them best.

Learning communities can provide gentle nudges to keep people on track with their upskilling. Something that’ll prove invaluable in many people’s busy (and getting busier) work lives. Deadlines and assignment details can all be easily accessed and seen in the learning community. It can also provide accountability.

Furthermore, seeing their colleagues’ progress and career growth will provide others with an incentive to up their game. And interacting within the community itself will also build new skills in communication, teaching and mentoring others, creating learning pathways or curating content, and even public speaking.

Getting started

The experiences that people have within their learning communities will instill a sense of belonging that will keep them motivated, engaged, and loyal to your organization. With all of these benefits in mind, what’s the best way to get started with an online learning community?

  1. Understand your learners’ needs

Take time to unpack what your learners want from a community, what formats and resources will work best, and any topics that you should initially focus on providing. Other considerations at this stage include deciding on if people can see who else is online, instant messaging options, and whether graphics, audio, and video are supported.

  1. Choose the right platform

Your learners’ preferences should influence the type of platform you use to build your community. Make sure it’s user-centric and intuitive to use, otherwise your community engagement will be hindered right from the start.

  1. Curate your learning resources

Discussions are often more effective around a particular resource like an interesting book, podcast, or TED talk. Consider what content most aligns with your people’s preferences and interests and make sure there’s a lot of it already uploaded to your community at the beginning to kickstart conversations.

  1. Consider gamification, badges, points

One way to encourage participation in your community is to offer incentives like points and game-like elements. This may not work for everyone, but for those who are driven by some friendly competition, it can add some extra encouragement.

  1. Set your rule

Even though you’re building a corporate learning community, there is still a risk that it could be used irresponsibly and undermine the goals of the community. Make sure there’s a clear set of rules and processes that everyone understands and a way of policing the community that encourages innovation but doesn’t allow for harmful or defamatory behavior.

  1. Gather feedback and data

To understand whether your community is having the desired effect, make sure you have ways to gather data on the learning that’s being completed and the skills being developed. Likewise, ask your people regularly if the learning community is meeting their expectations and providing a good experience. Use these insights to shape your future learning strategy and community.

From the editor: There's more!

In addition to internal corporate learning communities, consider supporting membership for your instructional design and development team in larger external communities, such as The Learning Guild (a global community of learning design professionals) and the Learning Leaders (another community sponsored by The Learning Guild. Read about them here:

The Learning Guild: Join for free! The Learning Guild, formerly The eLearning Guild, was founded in 2002 as a community of practice focused on learning technologies. The Guild produces conferences, expositions, and online events and publishes research, eBooks, white papers, and Learning Solutions Publication.

Learning Leaders Alliance: The Learning Leaders Alliance is a new vendor-neutral, focused community within The Learning Guild. The Alliance caters to experienced learning leaders looking to stay ahead of the curve, and to aspiring leaders wanting to expand their skillsets and move to the next stage in their organizations.

“For 20 years The Learning Guild has led the way in regard to how organizations leverage technology for learning,” says CEO David Holcombe. “We are excited to now be launching our new Learning Leaders Alliance, which will enable us to better support the specific needs of learning leaders in all aspects of their critical roles.

“The challenges we are all facing today are significant…which only underscores our need for better and more focused leadership in our organizations. The Alliance will enable leaders at all levels to develop new networks, knowledge, and expertise that will enable them to have positive and significant impact in their organizations,” Holcombe added.