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?