4 takeaways about investing in online learning community

It’s been eight years (in January) since I began helping virtual teams of educational professionals to share research-based information and educational programming with online learning communities. I have never called myself a community manager per se, as many community managers don’t, but I’ve taken on many different community management roles.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself coming back to four resources or ideas about innovation, community management, agile leadership, and personal resilience. They resonated with me on several levels, but I took some time to clarify why and how these resources resonated with me.

Idea 1 – Innovation might just look ordinary.

Prompted by the article, Revolutionary, Ordinary Innovation, and my own interest in how innovation happens, I found this excerpt important to pay attention to:

…what makes these innovations disruptive is the way they transform every-day, ordinary activities. These innovations are simultaneously revolutionary and ordinary. As a result, they are often much more subtle than classic lab-based innovations, which few would ever call ordinary.

….A similar characteristic permeates the work of Steve Jobs. As many have observed, a number of Jobs’ most profound innovations, like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, were based on existing technologies available to everyone, which he linked together with exquisite designs and sophisticated marketing. His new products did extraordinary things with available technologies. They were highly successful and captured our imagination because as he once said: A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Idea 2- Focused efforts around programming can be more innovative than focused efforts around technology. During the  Community Management in Higher Education webinar (Dec. 3, 2014), co-founder of the Community Roundtable (CRT),  Rachel Happe,  reminded us of how community can support educational learning and innovation:

Communities are required to change behavior, to drive growth, to drive innovation. This is what education and learning about.

However, one of the key takeaways or pain points she addressed for me during the webinar was when Happe shared this finding:

…the focus on content and programming often lags behind efforts to build technology and tools to engage people.

…yet, creating focus or a plan for content and programming is where CRT sees ‘best in class communities’ derive higher value from their community management efforts.

Idea 3 – Learning and working through social uncomfort is part of agile leadership. I recently joked with a few colleagues that one of my best qualities is working through uncomfortable and awkward situations (particularly virtual meetings).   I think uncomfortableness might just becoming more common as we increasingly interact with others from different backgrounds, understandings, and often through challenging technical situations. Realizing this, Kevin Cashman’s article,  5 Dimensions of Learning Agile leaders spoke to me, specifically the 5 dimensions:

• Mental Agility: Thinking critically to penetrate complex problems and expanding possibilities by making fresh connections.

• People Agility: Understanding and relating to other people, as well as tough situations to harness and multiply collective performance.

• Change Agility: Enjoying experimentation, being curious and effectively dealing with the discomfort of change.

• Results Agility: Delivering results in first-time situations by inspiring teams, and exhibiting a presence that builds confidence in themselves and others.

• Self-Awareness: Being reflective and knowing themselves well; understanding their capabilities and their impact on others.

Idea 4  – A Personal Board of Directors? The agile leadership ideas from Idea 3 tie right into this next resource, the 4 habits of the most resilient people. I liked the idea of calling the people I reach out to my ‘personal board of directors’.

“My personal board’s members don’t really know they are part of a team; they likely each think they are the only one I call when I need a sounding board.”

Why not have a name for this group of people that I call upon regularly or from time to time?  These people assist me in improving my self-awareness, critical thinking, and other dimensions of agile leadership – not to mention it’s just plain fun and rewarding to build friendships and new working relationships.

Four ideas lead to four connected takeaways

The four ideas above provided many me with many key insights, but I wanted to know: How do these four ideas connect to my experiences in community management and building learning community?  I mapped out these ideas and found four additional ‘connected’ takeaways:

Sketch of four ideas about innovation, community management, agile leadership, and personal resilience lead to four connected takeaways

Sketch of four ideas about innovation, community management, agile leadership, and personal resilience lead to four connected takeaways

1)Online learning communities, or the interactions within them, can be a potential and seemingly ordinary source of innovation.  I think it’s a good idea to not lose sight of this, as it helps me describe why intentionally investing in supporting learning community and agile leadership through educational programming can be beneficial.

2) Investing in educational program planning can be a key catalyst in building learning communities.  When we create a plan to focus our efforts,  it can help us direct our energy and resources to provide a clearer and more consistent story of who we are trying to reach and how it can help us serve their needs. The plan also becomes something we can measure against and learn from so we can gain an even better understanding of how to develop future programming or how technology can better support the community member’s needs.

3)Community managers create social comfort – often acting as guides and glue. Community managers help community members navigate new and unfamiliar pathways, often helping learners to leap from platform to platform to answer questions or solve problems as they arise. They also act like glue, helping to foster and nurture connections between community members, and build a trusted space where people feel comfortable sharing and exchanging ideas (which we hope leads to more learning, problem solving and innovation!).

4)Community managers need to be supported in practicing agile leadership and personal resilience.  Even though community managers smooth out the road for others, they often hit emotional bumps of self doubt and frustration,  caused by things they cannot know or control in advance. To keep up the emotional energy and social comfort necessary for effective community management, they need to be supported to practice self-care, personal resilience and agile leadership skills.

So these were my four key takeaways from the four resources and ideas I presented.  Do these ideas or takeaways relate with your work or goals to bring people together to learn, problem solve, innovate, or build community?  How might they be similar or different?


8 thoughts on “4 takeaways about investing in online learning community

  1. Kim this is a great post, never mind that it is your 1st try!
    I really appreciate that you inserted a hand drawn graphic to illustrate your points. I also appreciate the links you embedded, the added quotations and your use of a number system to make navigation and consumption easier for us.
    The one thing that caused some friction for me was the term “community manager”. I suspect it is common in your workplace but to an outsider it seems like an oxymoron. It feels as if the managing part would preclude the collaborative nature that is an essential part of community.
    I am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts and “seeing” you in the #MSLOC430 community.

    • This is great feedback about the friction in using the term community manager, Maureen. I have really struggled with the name community manager too, for the reason you just you mentioned

      ” It feels as if the managing part would preclude the collaborative nature that is an essential part of community, ”

      Yet, I’ve failed to define a better name. The Community Management Roundtable’s report and the work they are doing (specifically this slide http://www.slideshare.net/rhappe/the-state-of-community-management-2014/43) to understand online communities and who supports them (community managers) really relates well to the work I’ve done. For this reason, and because I wanted to use a term that some people might identify with or relate to, I chose to stick with the term ‘community manager’.

      Community facilitator or community leader might be better a word, especially when you consider the cooperative nature of the learning and conversation that one can facilitate in the community. However, I do feel that when it comes down to providing educational programming, where the work gets coordinated and done, at least in my work, that there is quite a bit of project management involved in making sure the right things happen at the right time, or making sure the work of many in the community gets heard or incorporated back into any collaborative products or work. That’s where I think the management part of the term lies…

      Your comment encourages me to spend more time thinking about this title. Thank you! I think it’s worth thinking out loud about the word more. I am certainly stuck trying to come up with a better term alone! 🙂

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  3. Karen you have brought up some very good points and I can see where you are coming from. It is a struggle to find the right term, but I think the term is an important container of both meaning and intention. I am often comfortable with someone else co-ordinating, arranging, and facilitating details and circumstances so that I can bring my most focused and best self to a situation (which is what I think is the ideal in an open and collected situation or community). However, if someone else is managing the situation it feels like the invitation part or the open part just morphed into a requirement.

    I am a facilitator. I did some of my training with The Grove Consultants International in San Francisco. I think The Grove’s four flows of facilitation for any gathering/event/community/process help illustrate my point. The flows are:
    1. operations which include time, resources, tools, and equipment
    2. information which include handouts, websites, pictures and charts
    3. energy which includes feelings, emotions, interactivity, group dynamics, and motivation
    (I see this as relating to your sense of emotional energy and social comfort)
    4. attention which include awareness, sense of purpose, intention, intuition and attitude

    I am comfortable with someone else managing the operations and to a large extent the logistics concerning information associated with a project. In fact I think management is necessary. However, I take exception to someone attempting to manage my energy and I really oppose any attempt to manage my attention. The most important and significant aspect of open and connected gatherings or communities is the sharing, exchange and reconsidering of one’s energy and attention. In order to have the sort of thrilling deep learning and paradigm shifts of energy and attention that are possible with open and connected learning it is necessary to have someone skillfully tending to (yes, probably managing) the information and operations.

    I worry about really truncating or thwarting the energy and awareness levels from happening by using a term like managing.

    When I look at the slide you refer to a good deal of the tasks fall into the operation or information flows although I think coaching is a glaring exception.

    I think it is possible to facilitate or invite and then host energy and attention, so I would go with community host or community facilitator.

  4. Many thanks, Maureen. I really appreciate you sharing Groves four flows of facilitation. I’m pleased to see it addresses energy and attention, as I see that this is sometimes the least understood piece of engaging online learning communities.

    It’s definitely interesting to come up with names and terms to fit new ideas of how we learn and work within the scope of emergent communities. A few years ago, I did discuss the term community facilitator, but it wasn’t met with much enthusiasm from others around me. I’m not sure why. It might have just been the timing. Instead I decided to come up with one statement about what I do. It’s been helpful for me to just use the sentence to describe what I do, but it doesn’t help much when you are trying to define a group of people (like community managers/facilitators). I appreciate you helping me explore this further.

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