Our earliest learning experiences are social. We watch our parents and families to learn how to walk and talk, we play with friends to learn social skills, and this carries on throughout our school days. Learning and socializing are intrinsically linked... So why, then, does this come to a grinding halt in the workplace?
Using communities to build connections
Building a community around your workplace learning can help your people learn from their peers, reinforce their new skills and knowledge, engage them with your organization\s L&D program, and provide vital insights to inform future learning plans. Plus, in today’s age, it provides a much-needed way to connect people and build relationships at a time when many people are feeling isolated. Almost half (45%) of Indians stated that they sometimes felt lonely during the first global lockdown in 2020. Worryingly, a fifth (20%) reported feeling very lonely.
Online learning communities can help alleviate some of this by offering access to a group of like-minded learners. Through communities, people can share their latest knowledge, they can recommend resources, and share an experience that goes beyond what’s actually being learned.
Learning in a remote and hybrid world
Many employees continue to work remotely some (if not all) of the time. Having a shared learning experience can help to build team bonds when physical team get-togethers aren’t possible. It also facilitates collaboration, particularly if a whole team needs to upskill in a specific area. They can work on it together and share comments, concerns, questions and new resources in their group. This fits well with how many people learn today. Over half (55%) of employees first turn to their peers when needing to learn a new skill.
Building diverse sets of skills
Online communities can also broaden the skills that people learn. They can surface new learning opportunities outside of an employee’s day-to-day role. Instead of someone solely learning through classroom-led events, they gain access to a range of online resources on a diverse set of topics. One day they may choose to learn management skills through a TED Talk and the next day they may take part in an online coding bootcamp. This also makes learning more engaging as people can tailor their learning to their learning and goals — and also stops them from getting bored with learning the same things every day. Learners also gain the flexibility to log into the community and learn at a time and place that suits them best.
A well-established learning community will also drive greater collaboration and learner-created resources. You can empower your people to create new learning pathways when they spot a gap in your organization’s resources. The people who are working on your frontline, who implement your strategies and talk to your customers, can often spot looming skill and knowledge gaps before leadership. Having a system where they can quickly share their knowledge with their peers will proactively address some of your skill gaps before they grow larger. 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.
Finally, seeing their colleagues’ progress and career growth will provide others with an incentive to up their game. Setting deadlines and goals that are easily viewed in the community can remind people of what they need to achieve, and by when. It provides an extra layer of accountability.
7 steps to build your community
With those benefits in mind, what’s the easiest way to get started with your learning community? I recommend 7 key steps to build a thriving, engaged community now.
Know your people
The first step in building an effective community for your people is to understand what they want from it. What topics, content formats, and resources most resonate with them? How will they access your community — will they want a smartphone app or will desktop suffice?
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.
Communicate your community
People cannot join your community if they don’t know that it exists. Find the communication channels where they spend most of their time (this could be through email, a company Intranet, or instant messengers like Slack and Teams) and use this to share the news of your community. Have others boost your community’s profile — ideally you want someone in each department, office, region, or team to be bought into and speaking about your learning community. Another tactic to consider is offering rewards and competitions to encourage people to log on and begin learning.
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, or you’ll struggle with engagement from the start.
Curate your learning resources
Discussions will be more interesting and attention-grabbing when they centre around a specific topic or resource. This is where curation comes in and it can be done by your L&D team, your people managers, other teams or all of your people. Someone could share their top podcasts for leadership, for example, or a data team could share their top resources to help everyone gain a basic understanding of data science.
When you first build your community, 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.
Consider gamification, badges, points
Once people have joined your community, you’ll want to keep them coming back. One way to achieve this 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 motivation.
Set your rules
Even though you’re building a corporate learning community, there is still a small risk that it could be used irresponsibly and undermine the goals of the community. Make sure there’s a clear set of rules that have been communicated across the company so everyone understands. You’ll also need a way of policing the community that encourages innovation but doesn’t allow for harmful or defamatory behaviour.
Gather feedback and data
To make sure your community is having the desired effect, gather data on your community engagement, popular topics and resources, and any other metric that aligns with your strategy. This will also help you prove your community’s value to stakeholders, including the C-Suite and board, and can help you get further buy-in and investment for future plans.
Similarly, have a regular feedback process so community members can tell you what they like and what needs improvement. Ask them if the learning community is meeting their expectations and providing a good experience. Use these insights to shape your future learning strategy and community.
Building an online learning community today will pay off immediately for your people. Giving them a way to connect with others in a shared online experience that’s more interesting than one-off learning events and that reinforces their skills. In the long run, it can provide insights that will help you hone your learning strategy, help you spot and reduce skill gaps, and collaborate with your people on personalized learning.