Online communities are awesome. Without them, people with similar interests from all over the world would not have the chance to meet. Ever! From gaming to knitting to book clubs (my personal favorite), there is something for everyone. Not to mention the popularity of sites such as Reddit and Quora, which in time have seen the formation of online communities that go beyond simple exchanges of information.
In my opinion, every online community has the potential to become a community of learning. As such, building an online learning community for your personal platform seems like the obvious approach. Nevertheless, despite popular opinion, these communities do not appear spontaneously and they do not grow by themselves.
Now, I don’t mean to put you off, but building learning relationships takes some time and patience. Think of it as planting a seed. One day you are posting a discussion topic, the following day you are inviting more people, and in a month from then on, you might be engrossed in a very interesting discussion about your favorite topic.
The next thing you know, people are starting forum threads themselves and helping others achieve their learning goals.
Benefits of building an online community
Aside from that, there are many benefits for entrepreneurs that are thinking of starting a learning community on their own platform:
- Gain recurring clients
- Create more value for learners
- Get constant feedback to improve your courses
- Market your courses better with insight on their needs and pain points
- Have a platform to promote other endeavors: podcasts, webinars etc.
- Keep learners closer – as opposed to losing them to a Facebook group that slowly fizzles away
The last part is especially tricky for course creators. On one hand, you need a platform attractive enough so that your learners will want to engage with it beyond simply purchasing a course. On the other hand, many platforms offer limited options in terms of tools that can help you build that community. Not to mention that learners will most likely live in different time zones and might be skeptical of interactions with total strangers on a new website — hence the tendency to stick with social media.
How to build a learning community using LMS tools
That is why a learning management system can offer the ideal platform for entrepreneurs: it’s easy to use and it can host your courses as well as offer the tools you need to build an online learning community.
But enough about the benefits. Here is how to build a learning community using LMS tools:
Create welcome pages
A welcome page does more than just inform your learners of what the course is all about; they should already know this anyway. Use this area to set the tone and expectations for the course, assure that you will be ready to guide them through this journey, and of course, suggest that they can actively participate in discussions. Even more, show them their options: email, chat, forums etc. Plus, add an FAQ area to answer basic questions so you won’t have to retype or answer them individually through emails.
Organize groups around similar interests
Think of a group as a gathering place for people with common interests. For example, if your courses center around digital marketing, there can be a separate group for SEO, Content Marketing or Social Media Marketing. It is also a good idea to have separate groups for each course, depending on the preferences of your learners as well. In addition, groups are great for sharing learning resources among course participants. A big bonus is that it keeps your platform clutter free so you won’t have many discussions opened all over the place about all sorts of subjects (you might want to create a special group for offtopics).
Use activity feeds
Activity feeds have multiple purposes: for general announcements, reminders, sneak peeks for upcoming courses, offers, or anything that you want your learners to know about. Learners can easily keep up to date with everything that’s going on. They also get notifications so nobody has to miss anything important.
Activate social networking and the display online users
I used to be a little skeptical about this until I made my first online friends many years ago. Yes, I still talk to them to this day, they still have wonderful book recommendations for me. This is a great option since learners can start to communicate more independently – as in, not wait for an instructor to initiate every single interaction. Learners can add others as friends, as well as see when their friends are online. This is a nice bonus to have, and people will surely appreciate the networking side of your learning platform.
Even if the courses are self-paced, it doesn’t mean that learners cannot learn from each other. The forum is still a very popular way of communication for online learning communities. Instructors can break the ice at the beginning by asking learners to introduce themselves. They can also create discussions for different topics, or even opt to post a new one every week.
Given its asynchronous format people can join in whenever they want. It is also pretty easy to moderate, and they can be used for future reference i.e. course beginners can have a look at the discussions to find a solution or simply learn more about a topic.
Make the most of messaging and chat features
As mentioned before, asynchronous forms of communication are great since people are pretty busy and don’t have time to go through courses at the same pace. Private messaging allows instructors to easily communicate with learners and answer questions at their own leisure. However, having a chat tool is also great for faster responses when needed. Learners can also use them to communicate among themselves without having to use external tools such as private emails, social media, and so on.
Create a portal blog
Having a blog area for your portal is not mandatory. However, if you have the time and like writing, use this blog to interact with your learners. For example, write a blog post about your story and how you discovered your passion for business, gardening, cooking, knitting, etc. Feature guest posts from learners, or offer a preview of what you are working on currently.
Encourage learners to get the app
There is a very high chance that most of your learners will want to check their courses on their commute to work, while waiting at the dentist’s office, etc. An LMS has a big advantage: it comes with an app, which users can download for free and access their courses on the go. Plus, they can also get notifications directly through their smartphones or tablets, and are not tied to a laptop when it comes to interacting with the instructor or other users.
Honorable mention: gamification
The right LMS allows you to create great courses. It also has special features such as gamification, where learners can earn points and badges for completing tasks, such as finishing a course module. Most importantly, you can display learners’ achievements on leaderboard for fun. After all, the learning community that plays together stays together.
Last but not least
Building an online learning community is trickier than it seems, but the right LMS has all the tools entrepreneurs need to communicate effectively. Surely, you don’t need to use all of them at once. For example, starting out with a forum for courses might be enough, and then you can move on to groups, chat, and so on.
There is immense value in learning from each other. People tend to search for others with similar interests, and the online medium offers them the perfect way to learn new skills and build meaningful learning relationships. So, why not offer a similar thing to your learners?
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and INDIE. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.