A lot of people have asked how they can build vibrant online learning communities (OLC) and keep them going. Facilitating an OLC is not easy. Most people believe that if “they build it, they will come” but it’s not that simple. Successful OLC’s require a lot of time and attention to build to a point where it becomes a thriving community.
I believe successful facilitation is a critical factor for success. Facilitating is not about taking on the role of expert but is more positioning as “guide on the side”. Facilitators are responsible for managing the process of the community and information exchange, not lecturing. They work with the community and culture that already exists to enhance it by making it more meaningful, productive and satisfying.
Top 10 tips I suggest for being a successful facilitator:
1. Provide Guidance- Guide users on how to use the community and how to interact with other members. In the online world this interaction is known as “netiquette”. Establish clear policies and community standards from the very beginning.
2. Provide Assistance- Assist or refer users to someone who can help if they run into technical problems.
3. Create and Maintain a Productive and Safe Environment- Monitor the forums for inappropriate or off-topic comments and effectively guide users through conflicts. Stay impartial.
4. Stimulate Discussions- Ask open-ended questions that are designed to encourage a full, meaningful response vs. a question that can be answered with just a “yes” or “no” answer.
5. Provide Timely Feedback- Make sure users are getting answers to questions on a timely basis and if appropriate, assisting to make sure the right people are being pulled into conversations.
6. Create an Essence of Community- Be welcoming and greet new members, provide positive or constructive feedback, and help provide summaries of content to allow the users to see developing patterns and common threads in discussions.
7. Be Active in the Community- Engage with the people you are trying to reach by participating in discussions. Lead by example.
8. Shift Ownership to the Community- For the community to succeed, users need to be empowered and the facilitator can do this by highlighting the contributors who are interacting with content, writing posts or commenting the most.
9. Encourage Feedback- Give opportunities for feedback and then show the community that someone is listening by acting on it. Let them know their voices are heard.
10. Keep Content Fresh- Feature industry or topic related content in the community as often as possible. The more up-to-date and relevant the content, the more possibility of triggering a reaction with users and stimulating discussions.
There are many online learning communities users can join. Be passionate, patient and stay focused and your community will succeed!