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How to foster a positive online learning community

One of the perks of social media is that it’s easy to find people with the same interests as yourself. I think it’s safe to say that there is essentially a group for anything, regardless of how niche the topic is. That’s the good thing.

The downside is that even nice people can turn into online trolls when they feel too strongly about something or think that they know more than others and don’t receive proper attention. Instead of group support and collective growth, you get unproductive conflict. Administrators usually have a hard time enforcing rules and getting everyone back on a more constructive track.

Unfortunately, this scenario can easily happen on your company’s online learning forums and platforms. Here are some tips to prevent that:

Choose the platform wisely

Different online collaboration platforms are more or less suitable for your company’s needs. The first thing you should look at is the security aspect. Learners need to know that all their interactions stay on the platform and that it’s perfectly safe to access it whenever needed.

Corporate e-learning blogs have the advantage of requesting a sign-in, so there is better control on the users. However, social media handles are more engaging, as they offer the possibility to share and interact with many types of content – choosing to form a secret social media group will be great for keeping things private.

E-learning project management platforms are great when you want employees working and learning together. Employees can assign tasks, check on progress, set a calendar, and share information with their colleagues.

Know what the learners expect

Just as you would do when beginning the design process for a new learning module, a needs assessment is paramount. The whole point of having online learning communities is to help the learners, so you have to find out what they want and need.

Employee surveys and assessments are great for gathering precious information, but the best appraisal method is seeing them interact with each other in a simulated environment. By setting up online focus groups and giving them various tasks to complete, you can witness first-hand what their strengths and weaknesses are. This way, you get excellent pointers about what they’re already very good at and what needs improvement.

When you implement the new social learning platform (or platforms), it will cater directly to the specific needs of the learners.

Guidelines and rules are golden

It’s only fair to let learners know what is expected of them, what they should and shouldn’t do. Every good online group or community has a clear set of dos and don’ts, and you should take a page from their book. As a side note, the don’ts are usually more important in this type of environment.

Make the rules very clear, try to keep them to a minimum, and mention what happens when people break them — it can start with a temporary mute or ban to post and go up to exclusion from the platform.

Don’t worry about rules having a negative impact on engagement; you’ll find that most learners will be 100 percent behind them, as they understand the reasons behind them and feel safe having clear directions. It’s not a matter of not trusting the users but rather informing them.

Cultivate a positive corporate learning culture

Employees most often behave in accordance with how the company as a whole behaves. If they work in a very aggressive, highly competitive environment, you can’t expect them to be all roses and butterflies online.

That’s why it’s impossible to have a positive learning community if the organization sees learning as a waste of time that negatively affects results.

At one point, I had a whole room of trainees who were very upset because the company had sent them to my workshop but made them take a day off (from their limited vacation days) so it would not be accounted for as a workday when the sales results were calculated.

I was upset with their management as well, to be honest. Companies need to encourage learning and promote it for its great benefits, not dismiss it as a time-consuming nuisance.

Read more: The 4 pillars of an engaging organizational and learning culture

Ask for learner feedback

Once the online learning platform is active, the only way to keep it going is to hear what the users have to say and implement their requests. You can either use polls, focus groups, or open discussions. Whichever you choose, the conversation needs to be genuine. Don’t ask for opinions just to check something in a project management app.

If you listen to what they have to say, you will have valuable data not only about their experience on the platform but about what they need in terms of future L&D programs.

Furthermore, showing learners that they are heard will boost engagement. It’s a win-win situation and will prove helpful in several different areas.

Closing thoughts

With learning moving online, it’s important to cater to all learner needs. Being social, working together, sharing ideas, and asking for feedback are relevant aspects of the learning process. Setting up online learning communities and cultivating a positive attitude within these communities is paramount in ensuring optimal L&D results.