xAPI Cohort – TorranceLearning

I’ve signed up for the Fall 2018 xAPI Cohort sponsored by TorranceLearning.  It’ll be my 2nd Cohort as an active participant – assuming I find a team to join.   Fall 2017 I was a “lurker” – meaning I was involved in a team, but because I had registered for the Cohort, I was able to attend any of the weekly sessions and to dip in and out of the project teams’ work that was in Slack.  Yes, this a planned role in the xAPI Cohort!

The Spring 2017 Cohort had 40 +/- active participants (if my recollection is right).  Last report was there are well over 400 signed up for the Fall 2018 Cohort!  But don’t let that intimidate you.  That’s 400 people who you can learn from by joining, forming, or following one or more projects!

And it’s all FREE!  The xAPI Cohort is an exploratory, experience-based learning community at it’s best.  Project teams form after the first weekly session and report out on their progress each week so that everyone learns from all of the projects.

In Spring 2017 I was on a small, but a dogged team that set out to explore different ways to use learning analytics and data visualization to utilize xAPI data provide learning insights.  To be honest, we failed miserably to meet the original goals of the group.  But fortunately, the primary goal of the xAPI Cohort is truly “learn something – together.”

I know I learned more applicable information regarding data collection, privacy, control, and governance; well as how Webhooks and API’s work and, oh yeah, how xAPI statements are well constructed (as well as how they can be poorly structured) than I likely would have in a traditional academic course.  Team Analytics met with and overcame a number of obstacles and, in the end, had a long list of “lessons learned” that we were able to share with the community.  Here is our report to the Cohort.

If you are interested in moving your knowledge and skills regarding xAPI forward, consider joining me starting September 7, 2018 and let’s learn together!

Roles in CoP’s Revisited: Purposes, Characteristics, and Types

(This is the second post in a series of six that is a revision of a post I wrote on ATD’s “Learning Circuit’s Blog” on June 10, 2006 entitled “Roles in CoP’s” in which I introduced the 4L Model of Roles in Online Communities.)


One of the key characteristics of a community – online or face-to-face – is that it has a purpose. Wenger defines communities as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Communities form and grow when new members are attracted to participation by the purpose of the community as it manifests through its activities, content, and members.

These days there are online communities for pretty much anything you can think of. It doesn’t matter what the purpose a community has. What matters is that all members know what it is and are working together toward it. A community’s purpose is the glue that holds it together and the beacon that attracts new members.

You may have noticed I’ve changed my discussion from Communities of Practice (CoP’s) to simply online communities. While many of the principles and practices of communities apply regardless whether they are online, face-to-face, or a mix of the two; narrowing this discussion to online communities allows some efficiency in the discussion. Also, the innovation in the workplace has been the emergence of communities based online.

Finally, Communities of Practice is a specific type of community. (For a complete definition of CoP’s check out learning-theories.com). There are various types of communities which our organizations can use to drive learning both in and outside the walls of our offices.

Characteristics of Communities

Before I move to types of communities, I think it’s helpful to look at the characteristics of online communities. In his discussion of communities in The Social Leadership Handbook 2/e, Julian Stodd provides a concise characterization of communities by identifying where they fit on three scales (visible to hidden, formal to social, and internal to external). What I like about his categorizations is they avoid characterizing communities by transactions (ie, member/non-members, refereed content/contributed content, etc.). His categories are continuums with numerous combinations possible.

Visible/Hidden – This scale describes how much of the community’s activity, content, and membership is openly available to a wider community beyond. Some communities are completely hidden because they are focused on a defined membership, event, or project. Hidden communities encourage candid sharing and provide safe places to disagree and try new ideas and processes. Totally visible communities have no barriers to participation, access to content and other members.

Most communities fall somewhere in between with part of the community “for members only” and other areas open to the public or the organization as a whole. One example of a hybrid community is the Community Roundtable. On one level, it is an open resource center with a nice array of content available to anyone interested in online communities, but the real community activity is only available to members (who have to meet a set of criteria and pay a membership fee). I’m a lurker in this community, learning from the public content that is the product of the community’s activities.

Formal/Social – This scale has to do with where the power sits, the governance, and control. In a formal community, a sponsoring organization may be providing funding because it created the community to meet specific organizational needs. They might provide staff and control the content. (Although too much control by any person or group can kill off a community quickly.) In other formal communities, membership may be restricted to specific groups of people and/or activities may be prescribed to meet the purpose of the community.

In a totally social community the members set the agenda, any leadership roles are voluntary and likely rotate regularly. Those who wish to participate in a totally social community may need to register with the community, but this is usually a technical consideration to set up an identity in the community. If the community has expenses, they may be covered by nominal membership fees, donations, or advertising revenue.

A good example of a hybrid community along this continuum is Github. This community for developers hosts some of the world’s largest open source tools (including the xAPI specification) providing a common structure and protocol that is open for any project while also including for-fee closed, secure spaces for non-open source tools. Access to GitHub is available to anyone. Participation is limited only by your knowledge and it is filled with folks who will patiently help you learn – if you are authentically willing to work. I’m somewhere between a lurker and learner on. GitHub.  I have learned about specifics of the xAPI specification via content posted in Github and I’ve downloaded a couple of open source tools.  I say I’m a lurker/learner because I’ve been learning from the community, but not with the community.

Internal/External – this scale is about where a community seeks to draw its membership from and the scope of its purpose. Internal communities may be formed by a company for a project, a change management initiative, or to connect a franchise network. Often they will focus on proprietary issues to be held confidential within the organization. External communities are set up either by an organization to empower, engage, or learn from the marketplace or their customers.  Communities of interest are often not part of any organization – forming completely on their own.

Hybrid communities are common along this scale, combining organizational content, context, and control with customer and user feedback.  Microsoft’s customer support communities or Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes are two examples.

Types of Online Communities

If you google “types of communities” you’ll see quickly that there is no real agreement on what types of communities there are.  I do believe that the above conversation about characteristics of communities may help in reducing the noise regarding types of communities.  In the end, true communities are individual and unique from any other community but there is some benefit in setting a few broad types.

Communities of Practice – These communities are formed to create and build together.  They can be focused on a specific project or missioned with identifying and solving a problem.  Others may be formed to advance the practice of a field or a segment of an organization.

Examples Activities: Sharing of best practices, areas to share and co-create content, project management tools, process and procedure documentation, meeting scheduling and documentation, curated resource list, roster of participant profiles.

Communities of Purpose – These communities are formed to advocate for a position or cause.  They are focused on evangelizing an idea by joining members together to plan and create resources to advance a common cause.  A community created to drive enterprise-wide culture change or promoting a new product or service would be examples.

Example Activities: Testimonials and reviews, creation of position statements and white papers, creation and presentation of webinars, defining and evangelizing mission, vision, and principles, training of newcomers and customers/audience, community-based FAQ, curation of lessons learned.

Communities of Interest – These communities are formed to share ideas, best practices, and experiences.  They are focused on advancing concepts and connecting people who share common interests.  Professional communities, customer support communities, and advocacy communities are examples of communities of interest.

Example Activities:  Rating and ranking tools, sharing of expertise/techniques/knowledge, new feeds, media reviews, summaries and photos from in-person activities (meetups, presentations, etc.), polls/surveys, curation of appropriate content, directory of members, games and quizzes to test members and potential members about their knowledge of topic of the community.

Learning Communities – While all communities are in some way about learning, these communities are usually formed for a specific learning experience and are usually closed to invited attendees only.  They can be used especially in situations where the learning experience is focused on soft skills like building trust, negotiating mean, understanding the power of diversity, and dealing with ambiguity.

They can be organized as one of the types listed above or be a combination of all three.

Learning communities are created to provide a safe place for participants to learn, challenge, and fail with each other in order to further their knowledge and skills in a specified area of content.  Participation is limited in order to create a safe environment for experimentation, discovery of new ways of thinking and behaving, practice of new skills, and sharing of opinions and new, incomplete ideas.

Example Activities: sharing of expertise via webinars, links, team challenges, newsfeeds, coaching and mentoring by facilitators and experts, networking, co-creation of content, participant lead teach-back sessions, scenario-based learning, project-based learning, and event-based, experiential learning,

All four types of online communities can serve learning and development outcomes.  Choosing the type of community and establishing where they fit in the characteristic spectrums I’ve discussed varies depending upon the purpose the community is created to fulfill.

In the next four posts, I’ll explore the 4L roles in online communities starting with Linking.

YOUR TURN: What do you think about online communities?  Must they be focused on a purpose?  Are there any other scales of characteristics of communities I should add?  What are your thoughts on my categorization of types of online communities?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Previous posts in the series:

Coming posts in the series:

Roles in CoP’s Revisited: The Original Post

(This is the first post in a series of six that is a revision of a post I wrote on ATD’s “Learning Circuit’s Blog” on June 10, 2006 entitled “Roles in CoP’s” in which I introduced the 4L Model of Roles in Online Communities.)

12 years ago I was serving as the Community Manager of ATD’s Learning Circuits Blog (LCB) and we were exploring ways to identify and develop the community around LCB.

On June 10, 2006, I posted “Roles in CoP’s“. In this post, I introduced the “4L Model” for segmenting the constituents of an online community of practice (CoP). The 4 L’s are Linking, Lurking, Learning, and Leading. The post received positive feedback in comments from LCB readers. To my surprise, over the next several years I received a dozen requests for permission to use the post and the accompanying graphic in graduate school course materials and conference presentations.

Recently, in reviewing this post, I had two realizations: 1) For the most part, the model holds 12 years later and 2) it does need some clarification, expansion, and updating to really be of value given the development of online communities since the original post.

Over the next 4 posts, I’m going to do just that.  I’ll start with a quick review of the key points from the original post and then move on to the new conceptualization of the 4L Model.

The Original 4L Model

LINKING – These folks are checking the community out to determine if it might serve their purposes and whether it is worth their time and attention. 12 years ago they were basically invisible to the rest of the community.

the 4L Model of Roles in Communities is represented by concentric circles. From the outside inward - Linking, Lurking, Learning and Leading.
4L Model of Roles in Communities

LURKING – These folks actively pay attention to the community and occasionally participate in various activities.  They may be interested in greater involvement but don’t yet feel comfortable enough yet.  For others, the content of this community may be peripheral to their interests.  Although difficult to identify, the lurkers can be the largest group in the community.  (Change #2 – I incorrectly equated this role with Wenger/Lave’s concept of Legitimate Peripheral Participants (LPP) in the original post).The 4L Model was based upon my experience with LCB and the work of Etienne Wenger, Jean Lave, Richard McDermott, and John Seeley Brown.  It segments participation in online communities into four overlapping roles. (Change #1 – “roles” wasn’t the best word – group or segment of participants is better.) 

LEARNING – This group is the heart and soul of any community. They are actively participating in the community – learning, sharing, co-creating. They are involved in the governance of the community – recruiting new members and grooming to become leaders. (Change #3 – Yellow was a horrible color to use. LOL)

LEADING – The leading group (or individual) creates and promotes the mission, vision, and purpose of the community. “Building a fire” of activity that attracts members deeper into the community and non-members to consider participating.

The movement from one role to another is a learning process for each participant.  Members of the community encourage and model roles for each other in what Seeley Brown refers to a cognitive apprenticeship.  To nurture and grow the community, current members need to provide opportunities for participants to learn from each other and to “try on” new roles.  McDermott speaks of placing benches for members to sit and talk amongst each other. (Change #4 – I, unfortunately, gave these concepts little space in the original post).

The Community of Communities Has Exploded

Twelve years ago, online communities were just beginning to be discussed in L&D circles (remember Facebook opened to the general public in 2006 and Twitter launched in March 2006).  Today, they are indispensable parts of organizations and our day-to-day lives.

There are different types of communities that serve different purposes.  They have memberships of a half a dozen to millions.  Some are “permanent” with large hierarchies and some are intended to only exist for a few months.

New research and thought leadership have expanded what we know and think about communities.  I’ll add ideas from Julian Stodd, John Stepper, the Community Managers’ Roundtable, Fever Bee and others to the mix.

In the next 4 posts, it’s my intent to use some of this new information to build a new version of the 4L Model that might provide insight once again into communities and what they mean to their participants and sponsors.

I hope you’ll join in via the comments to these posts to agree or disagree with my ideas.  Suggest additional thoughts and argue with me to your heart’s delights.  This isn’t about me being right.  It’s about me throwing out some ideas for you and me to learn from.

Coming posts in the series:

So your turn, what do you think about online communities?  Must they be focused on a purpose?  Are there any other scales of characteristics of communities I should add?  What are your thoughts on my categorization of types of online communities?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Information Overload!

I have a confession to make – I’ve lost control of my information sources again.  But who can blame me?  I currently have the following pipelines of new information that I try to monitor daily and, if not, at least weekly:

  • 5 email accounts (3 Gmail, 1 Yahoo, 1 iCloud)
  • 5 newsfeeds (3 Facebook, 1 LinkedIn, 1 Twitter)
  • 3 text messaging accounts (2 Facebook, 1 Android)
  • 4 Slack accounts
  • 3 Job feeds (LinkedIn, ZipRecruiters, Indeed)
  • 1 LinkedIn messages
  • 1 What’s App account
  • 1 Pinterest account
  • 1 CNN News
  • 1 ESPN (I’m a hopeless sports geek)

That’s 25 primary sources and it doesn’t include my blog aggregators and other content aggregators. No YouTube. No local Chicago news.  No books.  Clearly, this list of 25 is deficient.  Yet, a rough analysis of these pipelines (excluding CNN/ESPN) indicates I’m dealing with 500-600 new messages every day.  If I spent 60 seconds on each item, I’d clear them all in 8-10 hours!

What can I do?  What can anyone do?

Create email labels/folders:  This one I have down Gmail’s labels have been a godsend to me.  I have 185 labels in my business account and 92 in my personal account.

Filtering emails – I’m pretty good here as well.  I create filters to move “interesting, but not urgent” emails out of my inbox and store them under the appropriate label.  I have 84 filters in my business account and 54 in my personal account.  This works particularly well for community or individual news feeds that I don’t want to trash, but can’t take the time to read everytime they show up.

Unsubscribe – How many times have you had to “register” with a website or organization just to get them to send you that ebook or research report you just have to have.  Turns out the ebook or report is basically pablum and now you’re stuck getting email after email after email because you’re now on their mailing list.

Earlier this summer I started taking some dead time (ie, when the TV’s on) and would go on unsubscribe rampages.  Thus far I’ve probably unsubscribed from over 100 email subscriptions (a few years back, all such email was required to provide an unsubscribe link in every email sent out in bulk.  It’s usually at the very end of the email in very tiny print.)

These are the things I’ve been doing.  They’ve gotten things down to the numbers I listed above.

Now for the hard work

So I’ve done some basic pruning and shearing, but I still am surrounded by a jungle of information.  It’s time for drastic measures.

Purpose – What is it I need to know and why?  Does it forward myno surfing current project?  Add to my career development?  I’ve fallen into the habit of following interesting hyperlinks, joining mailing lists, and wandering off to the far corners of the internet only to find myself thinking “how did I get here?” and “why am I even reading this?”  I have to make sure that what I’m about to read, watch, listen to adds to what I’m trying to accomplish at that moment, on that project, or my career.

This won’t be easy.  I’ve always lived with the fear of what if I’m looking at the wrong thing, studying the wrong content, or following the wrong group.

Focus – OK, time for another confession. I’m an information hoarder. I have a curiosity for anything new – new ideas, new technologies, new contacts, new organizations. etc.  I gather all kinds of information about a myriad of topics, much of it “just in case I need it down the road.”  Afterall, everything is changing.

But our field is far too broad for anyone to keep up with everything.  I need to buckle down and further refine what it is that I want to focus on and then become ruthless about leaving communities, stop monitoring blogs and resource sites, and ignoring “bright shiny things” in content areas outside my defined focus.  Getting rid of some of the trees and brush will help thin out this jungle.

Have a Plan – With a purpose and focus defined, I need to set out a schedule of when to answer emails, read new material.  Currently, my searching and reviewing new content is ad hoc surfing.  Not the most efficient nor effective way to go about it.

One tactic that seems to be helping is that I’m trying to divide the searching and the reading (viewing, listening).  I now have a list in the Sort’d extension for Gmail where I store links to content I want to review. I can then prioritize and review things from that list in concentrated windows of time.

But It’s Not All Me

Now that I’ve dissected my approach to dealing with the fire hose of information coming at me, I have some new tactics to try.  But I’ll close with a bit of a caveat that is a plea to vendors, thought leaders, and community managers everywhere.


In an effort to get our attention, some of you folks are See what you are missing on Workplace. Dave Lee. 1 Message. 52 new notifications. 48 Group updates. 24 group invitations.putting way too much out.  Here is one example from a community I want to be a part of.  But 125 messages, notifications, updates and invites since the last time I logged in!!!  (Fortunately, I have my email notifications for this group mostly turned off.)

A short little blog post by FeverBee entitled The Hidden Costs Of Pursuing High Engagement addresses this from the perspective of the Community Manager pointing out that too many outreach messages – including everyone welcoming newcomers – can end up driving potential members away.

So what do you think?  How do you deal with the information overload that is a part of our daily life?  Am I overlooking alternative solutions?  Please add to the conversation by commenting below.

Featured Image by Brandon Lopez on Unsplash