The sense of community and the social: using virtual spaces for learning.

Three weeks ago i started the Learning Forum as a place to develop new ideas and collaborate in discussions around learning. We have nearly eighty people so far with discussion ranging across a number of topics around ‘learning‘. The recent blog posts on ‘Knowledge‘ and how we use it and ‘pride in learning‘ have both been developed through discussions and surveys in this space.

I’ve always enjoyed how social spaces around learning events can capture a less formal but sometimes more powerful experience, and think this is a big area for organisations to explore further. As is typical of these things, we need to focus on ‘experience’, not ‘technology’. We happen to hold the Learning Forum on LinkedIn, which provides a handy and free space with pretty much all the functionality we need, although it could just as easily be on Facebook, or one of the many freeware forum sites.

Technology can provide a space, but it’s how we use it that creates the value: how it’s social and how the community form are down to individual relationships and both the relevance and value of what takes place. I think that focus is essential. If it’s a space to think about learning, then it needs to hold discussions around learning, not be a space to hold links to third party resources or promote other things. It should be more like the conversation you’d have in the pub or over dinner with people who share interests with you.

As is true for so much in the social media world, the ‘social’ is something that emerges, not something that you plant. It’s based on engagement, which is, in turn, driven by collaboration, relevance and timeliness of both posting and responses. Some of the people in the Forum i know from ‘real’ life, so the debates and discussions are an extension of those relationships, but the majority i don’t know at all, so we have to form our relationships purely within this virtual space. As so much of the value of learning spaces comes equally as much from challenge as it does from agreement, it’s important that we take time and spend ‘social capital’ to develop the sociable relationships that will allow us to support future challenges and differences of belief.

Adding a social layer, a forum space, to learning experiences is something that can be done at virtually no cost and with minimal investment of time, but nurturing them and supporting what happens within them requires more effort. Keeping it focused and building the relationships that will support and foster debate are things that don’t happen by themselves, any more than they do in the workplace or our social lives.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Community, Edgelands, Engagement, Forum, Learning, Online Spaces, Spaces and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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