Content and Community

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the role of content in a learning community recently and as a thought piece I’ve come up with a diagram that I think is at least interesting and hopefully helpful.

I would love any and all advice on whether this diagram is effective as is, what should be changed, added or removed to make my point

I want to represent the diversity of content and activities that can be used by a community to create content and drive learning throughout the community. Furthermore, to truly move a community of professionals requires a wide spectrum of experiences that as they grow in sophistication can gradually lift the community to higher levels of activity and growth.

In this diagram, I’m trying to represent that content is multi-dimensional and varies in character (the five vertical lines along the horizontal axis) and complexity which is represented by the positioning of content and activities from bottom to top).

Not only is there a multitude across a wide spectrum of options that can be utilized by a community to learn, but these options are often interrelated.  I’ve thought about drawing connecting lines between items, but I think that would be far to cluttered.  I’m hoping that proximity to each other will lead to this understanding of connection. 

Ultimately, I hope to drive the idea that the best approach to moving a community of learners forward is to encourage a wide range of activities that touch on multiple dimensions of interactions gradually building capability and competency that drives the communities health and growth.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Roles in CoP’s Revisited: Learning

Learning is the role that defines a community. Interaction amongst members is the lifeblood. In this post I look at what, how and why members learn.

(This is the fifth 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.)

Now we get to where the action is at in communities – Learning.  Communities are at their best when they are jointly:

  • seeking new knowledge,
  • sharing ideas and information,
  • recombining those ideas and information into new ideas,
  • co-creating products and content,
  • learning and practicing new skills,
  • sharing what the community has aggregated and created within the community and beyond.
Learners and Leaders
Learners and Leaders are at the core of the community.

But not only is learning the “stuff” that a community collects and creates, but the process of learning is the driving mechanism that makes a community run and thrive. For a community to work, it needs a solid core of members who are interacting with each other and the rest of the community.

In the comments to my post back in 2006, it was suggested that I was missing another role in my model.  One person even suggested that it was a 5th L – Love.  While it is true that in strong communities, love and compassion among members is quite normal, it is a characteristic of the community, not a role to be played.

Sense of Community

While greatly outnumbered by the Linkers and Lurkers, it is the Learning group of participants who drive the success of the community.  They identify themselves as “the community” and are the example to Linkers and Lurkers of what it means to be a member of the community.  For a community to endure, there must be a strong sense of what it means to be a member of that community.  Richard Millington of Feverbee characterizes sense of community as when members, “sacrifice part of their own identity to accept, embrace, and then defend the group identity.”

A community thrives by its connections, not by its collections!

– Valdis Krebs

In their article, Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory, David McMillan and David Chavis outline four foundational elements that contribute to a sense of community:

  1. Membership – Membership is a feeling that one has invested part of oneself to become a member and therefore has a right to belong.
  2. Influence – People only participate in a community if they feel they can influence the community
  3. Integration and Fulfillment of Needs – We want to join groups that make us better than we are today
  4. Shared Emotional Connections – Members have to feel that fellow members share the same values

The challenge is that these elements are hard, if at all possible, to teach in an in-person training event or a series of online courses. The best way to help develop these elements is through real-life experiences. Communities enable this sort of learning as members can experiment with new roles, take on new challenges, find mentors, and other experiential learning situations.

A Scenario of Learning

In a healthy community, interaction among members has a multiplier effect as engagement and involvement will. If during a project we are working on together you share with me a technique for accomplishing a task. I incorporate it into my work and my team is blown away and they adopt it. A fellow community member was looking at our project and suggested that we should do an online webinar for the community regarding our application of your technique. In addition to the spread of a great idea there are a number of other positives:

  • I learned how creative you are and how much you care about your work (learning about others),
  • I learned that collaborating can be effective and fun, (learning new ways of working),
  • You had never attended a webinar, let alone co-facilitated one and now you’re talking about doing a regular session (expanding skills),
  • Neither of us knew how many people were involved in the organization’s webinar program (learning about the organization),
  • Jane Smith asked me to join a committee in the organization (gaining exposure),
  • I never would have thought I would be able to attempt a project like this. And here we are – done. (learning about ourselves)

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger proposed that this situated learning – learning in real time in a context that is real, not simulated – is the way members of a community move from novice to fully participating members.

It is through becoming involved in the work of the community that members gain new knowledge, develop new skills, and expand their professional network. In working with others who share similar goals, attitudes, and beliefs that learners find the safety to experiment with new concepts and behaviors, share new ideas, challenge the way they have worked, and try out new roles.

Vehicles of Learning

Yes, there are passive learning opportunities – reading community content, watching videos, attending webinars. But the unique power of a community comes in collaborative activity amongst members. Some of those activities include:

  • co-creation of materials (reports, communication, marketing)
  • participation in discussion groups
  • research activities (surveys, data collection, reports)
  • presentations, workshops, and webinars
  • creation and presentation of events and conferences
  • projects for the community
  • helping other participants (new member outreach, mentoring)
  • administrative work to help manage the community
  • participation in work teams and committees
  • recruiting of new members

The key to Learners being active and participating is in the hands of the community leadership. In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the Leading role.

Previous posts in the series:

Coming posts in the series:

  • 6) Roles in CoP’s Revisted: Leading

Roles in CoPs Revisited: Lurking

4th of 6 in a series of posts on roles in online communities.

(This is the fourth 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.)

The Lurkers comprise the largest segment of any open online communities (remember closed communities, by nature, don’t have linkers and lurkers).  Yet their participation is very limited.  Don’t be distressed when you discover this is true for your community because research has shown that Participation Inequality happens in all social media and online communities. The 90-9-1 rule applies to all online social media environments. It says that 90% of participants will be lurkers, 9% will contribute to the community, and 1% will do most of the work of the community.

I’ve come to think of Lurkers as participants who have not yet developed a “voice” in the community.  In a recent learning community in which I was serving as Community Manager, I conducted 1-on-1 interviews with participants to gauge a number of factors.  As I was preparing to talk to one participant, I noted that he hadn’t completed any activities and hadn’t posted anything in the community except his introduction.  Obviously, I asked him about his lack of participant.  He explained that he’s a listener. Even in face-to-face situations he seldom shares his ideas unless they are truly an addition to what has already been said.  He assured me that he was keeping up.  In work later in the cohort, his actions with his team proved that he was right.  He was a highly engaged Lurker.

Lurking Behaviors

Lurkers tend to download resources provided by the community and read but not contribute to discussion boards, blogs, and wikis.  (This is why Vanessa DiMauro and others prefer to call them Active Readers.) They may participate in liking, rating, promoting/demoting content.  If they do contribute, it is sporadic and not enough to build a voice in the community.

But according to research that DiMauro and colleagues conducted, lurkers can be very engaged community members even if you don’t see it.

  1. They are engaged in personal development and chose to “listen and learn”
  2. They are often taking your content and share it with others,
  3. They talk about what they learned from your community, and
  4. They even provide referrals to your community.

Many Lurkers consider themselves to be part of the fabric of your community because of these activities.  They can be brand champions. They are also the most likely candidates to move into Learner and Leader roles in the future.  In many cases, they are engaged, but not committed.

It is also important to remember that amongst the Lurkers are former Learners and Leaders.  Those who have had good experiences with the community but stepped back from more involved roles can serve as mentors and champions of the community to Lurkers.  They can be advocates for Lurkers who are interested in increasing their involvement in the community.  They can model desired community behaviors.  In short, they can be a real asset to the community.

Find ways to show them that they are important.  Highlight their contributions when they do work up the motivation to add to the community.  Give them opportunities to co-create.  Make it crystal clear as to how to contribute and how they can get involved.  Have community mentors/stewards who are resources to help interested members create and amplify their voices within the community and beyond.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that not all members are happy and looking to add to the community.

Lurking amongst the Lurkers you will find folks who aren’t working for the community’s purpose.  They may even be working against it or to undermine it.  It could be members who are frustrated because they have been trying to get more involved but are frustrated by unclear processes or an unapproachable leadership.  They may be former leaders who were forced out due to politics or their own incompetence.  It’s important to watch such members and to work with them to not do harm to the community.

Engaging Lurkers

Lurkers are getting to know the community.  Some will be satisfied indefinitely with being DiMauro’s Active Readers.  Consuming what the community produces and, in many cases, sharing it with those around them outside of the community.  Encourage them by providing a flow of good content and experiences to keep them coming back and to build their loyalty.

Others want to get involved deeper into the community but either aren’t yet ready – due to their time, their perceived knowledge of the community or not yet confident in their standing in the community – or they don’t understand how they can be more involved.  In either case, they will need help from the Learner and Leader groups to make the transition to greater involvement.

Richard McDermott talks about providing benches for participants to get to know each other.  These benches should move beyond a standard discussion board.  Webinars, videocasts, strategic planning sessions, town halls, conference calls are all examples of activities that encourage members to get to know each other.  TLDC’s daily TLDCasts are a great example of this.

Getting to Know Your Lurkers

There are numerous ways to track lurkers, including:

  • number of downloads
  • participation in events (webinars, videocasts)
  • number of likes, ratings, comments
  • engagement surveys
  • discussion board contributions
  • Net Promoter Score

But no matter how you quantify the activity of Lurkers, you really won’t understand them until you dig deeper and get to know them.  What brought them to your community?  Why are they staying?  Why aren’t they more active?  What is there motivation? 1-on-1 conversations, focus groups, and strategy sessions are time consuming but understanding this part of your community will give you the opportunity to drive growth and loyalty.

Your Turn:  What do you think of the Lurkers in your communities?  If you are a Leader, do you feel you know your Lurkers well?  How do you learn about them?  What do you think about Lurkers who are silent but utilize the community’s content?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the Learner group of participants.

Previous posts in the series:

Coming posts in the series:

Roles in CoP’s Revisited: Linking

(This is the third 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.)

Why do people join online communities?

  • Socialization – They want to be around like-minded people.  “I want to be around people who speak my language and understand my problems.”
  • Expertise – They want to learn from and with the leaders on a topic. “I want to learn from them.” “I want to understand how they do what they do.”
  • Reputation – They want to build their status within the community, field, or their own organization.  “I want to be respected by these people.”
  • Affiliation – They are attracted by the community’s purpose and membership.  “I want to be a part of that group.” “I want people to know I’m a member of this group.”
  • Behavior – They want to do what the community does or helps people do.  “I want to do what they are doing.” “I want to change what I’ve been doing.”
  • Contribution – They want to help a community achieve its purpose.  “I want to use my knowledge and skills to help.” “I want to give my time and efforts to a worthy cause.”
  • Competition – They want to learn what is going on in other organizations.  They may even be looking for employees or experts to poach.  “I want to know if they are doing something that we don’t know about.” ” I want to find out who they are talking to/with.”
  • Assignment – and some people are assigned to participate in communities for projects or courses.

To be clear, I am defining “joining” as taking an action that intentionally brings a community into my life.  This can be as formal as paying a membership fee or achieving a certification or as minimal as signing up for a newsletter or bookmarking a web link.

Groups in Online Communities (formerly Roles in CoPs)

I know, about time. Right?

Let me start with a couple of key principles around groups.

  1. These groups are not mutually exclusive of each other. The boundaries between the groups are not starkly defined. The groups are descriptors of general behaviors.
  2. An individual can play more than one role in a community.
  3. We all play different roles in the different communities we join.

There may be a fifth group to consider, but I’m not to the point of adding them to my model, but I will talk about them briefly.  Based on his research around the Landscape of Trust and Communities of Practice, Julian Stodd is suggesting that communities are more defined by their community than by their common purpose.  He argues that the shape of the community may come from understanding who is left out – disenfranchised, excluded, denied membership, lack of technical access, lack of specific knowledge, etc – than by who is in the community.

Linking and Lurking

The first two roles I’ll discuss are Linking and Lurking.  Often these two groups are lumped together, but I think there are differences between the two that are important.

Research has clearly shown that these combined groups are by far the largest group of people involved in open online communities.  Closed communities that restrict access to a membership and internal communities will not have these groups of members (or very limited ones). Valdis Krebs, says this group can be as much as 2/3’s of a community’s participants.

Back in 2006, there was very little ability to see Linkers and Lurkers.  Today, thanks in

Linkers and Lurkers Illustration
Linkers and Lurkers in Online Communities

large part to the efforts of our colleagues over in Marketing who have had to deal with the massive shift to Social Media Marketing, there are simple ways to get an understanding of not only how many Linkers and Lurkers an online community have, but to understand a great deal about who they are, what they value, and what they do.


These people have taken the most minimal actions possible to join your community. They may have bookmarked your URL or signed up for your mailing list. Some may not realize that you consider them to be a part of your community.

Of course, the question begged here is “If they aren’t involved in the activities of the community, why should we care about them?”  There are several reasons to strive to understand these members of your community.

  1. Future members – Clearly they are interested enough in what you are doing to have taken action to join your community. Analyze what the action was that drew them in. Follow up with more similar opportunities.
  2. Feedback for Improvement – You likely have some way of reaching out to these folks.  Survey them regarding why they haven’t participated.  What would it take to get them more involved?
  3. Dissonant Voices – It’s very likely that there are disgruntled potential participants and former participants among your Linkers.  While approaching them may be tricky, they are likely a drag on the community now. Find out what their pain points are and see if you can’t meet them.
  4. Your Brand – Despite their lack of participation, there are a lot of them and their views on your community can have an impact on your brand’s reputation in the marketplace. Letting Linkers know you are aware they are there can create that little spark that will lead them on a path to becoming members.  Asking their opinions can accelerate that process.

Some Linkers will “check in” on your community from time to time.  Make sure the initial image of your community is dynamic and current.  If they are linked to you by a newsletter, make sure the newsletter is appealing and tells a compelling story about your community.  In both cases, you might have a special offer of new content or a simple community poll. These efforts could be the thing that gets a Linker to start Lurking.  The key is to make sure that the public facing side of your community is attractive to potential new members.

How Do We Know They are There?

When I wrote the original post in 2006, there was really no great way to tell who was a Linker. Sure there were things like tracking if someone posted your permalink somewhere – but that data was limited and didn’t include folks who simply bookmarked your site. At Learning Circuits Blog, we tried a number of tactics to get a better idea of how many linkers we had.  The best tool we added were anonymous mini polls that addressed an issue in the blog post. This did shine a temporary light on our linkers.  We had proven they were there, but only episodically.

Today there are a number of devices and tools that Social Media Marketers have developed to see who is visiting their sites, where they are coming from, what campaigns led them to their site, etc.  In addition, social media listening tools are powerful ways to keep an eye on what people are saying about your community. We in L&D need to spend time understanding these techniques and adapt them to meet our needs.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the Lurking role.

Previous posts in the series:

Coming posts in the series:


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 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.

The Pre-Internet Learning Organization

In Jane Hart’s Modern Workforce Learning Challenge, last week’s challenge was to look at how to support continuous social learning and how to help team members learn from each other.

My first reaction was “hey, I’ve done that before.” Continue reading “The Pre-Internet Learning Organization”

Adaptive LearnERS, not LearnING

In an interview with EdSurge ‘Our Technology Is Our Ideology’: George Siemens on the Future of Digital Learning, George Siemens discusses his belief that the current emphasis amongst edtech companies and universities on better and better adaptive learning tools is a wrong direction.  These tools are helping students to execute learning routines that won’t be needed in the future as machines take on more and more processes for us.  He argues learners need to prepare for careers that employ uniquely human traits like self-regulation and communication. Creativity, complex problem-solving and coordinating with others are examples of the skills needed.  There is greater detail on George’s Blog

But let me tell you about one of my personal stories that led me to believing in this new world of digital, networked learning. Continue reading “Adaptive LearnERS, not LearnING”

Where are the learners?

In a post on, Kali Blunt outlines her Top 4 Reasons Your Workplace Needs Social And Collaborative Learning Technologies.

  1. Support virtual teams
  2. Provide a centralized content repository
  3. The ability to support and track informal as well as formal learning
  4. Connecting people through communities

My second biggest issue with this, and many other justifications for learning technologies (social and non-social), is that the argument is tool and functionality focused.

LMS’s are great because they can track grades and attendance.  I’m sorry, Miss Hull did just fine without an LMS when I was in 4th grade. Continue reading “Where are the learners?”