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      Championing Social Learning in Communities

      by Richard Whiteside

      online learning
      There’s a lot of buzz right now around artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to transform the way we learn and work. With breakthroughs like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which has made significant strides in natural language processing and understanding, it’s clear that AI will play an increasingly significant role in our lives. 

      However, as exciting as these developments may be, it's important to remember that human learning is deeply rooted in social interaction, and community engagement supports this. It's a natural human inclination to learn from and with others in a social context. Whether it's in a training room, an office, or a community setting, social learning is a fundamental aspect of human development and growth.  

      Despite the advances in AI, people will still benefit from learning in communities and interacting with others in a social context. Of course, in the future, AI will probably be an increasingly visible feature in platforms we use for work, but I’m sure that human participation will always have a key role to play in the effectiveness and usefulness of these platforms.  

      So, how can your organisation leverage social media to enhance social learning and engage your learners effectively? 

      In this article, we will explore the potential for ‘Learning Community Champions’ to play a key role in creating successful online communities and fostering social learning engagement. 

      Let's dive in! 

      Online Learning Communities

      Asynchronous (not simultaneous) sharing and chat can deliver huge value, offering practical benefits such as communication across time zones, time for deeper thinking, and support for the involvement of more introverted people who prefer text responses to live discussions.

      However, in my experience of working with clients to build communities and drive interaction within them, it is exactly this type of communication that is challenging to keep people engaged in. There really needs to be value, and employees, managers and key stakeholders need to see it, understand it, and experience it. Otherwise, any involvement in a community will disappear as other work tasks and projects are given priority. 

      Communities are the ideal places to bring in information from outside your organisation, boosting the diversity of knowledge available and connecting people within organisations to learn, innovate and solve problems together. This is all about supporting informal, social learning in the workplace; widely accepted to be the way most of us learn, most of the time, at work.  

      One tactic I've employed recently with a client is the use of a group of ‘learning community champions’.  


      The use of champions is a method which has been used for many years in change management. Chosen people are expected to communicate and support change initiatives, increasing the chance of success. In a learning community, champions are enthusiastic participants who make time to get involved, understand community interaction and encourage others to engage. In a wider social media sense, this is generally known as ‘community management’.  

      Of course, champions are as busy as everyone else, so creating a team of champions to share the load of maintaining a community makes sense. If you're in an L&D role in a reasonably-sized department, you might be able to play a direct role in this. If you're an L&D leader with only a small team, this is something you'll probably need support with. Watch out for people around your organisation who are active on social channels, and ask others for recommendations. Find people who might like to develop skills in this area.  

      Champions support communities to thrive

      They can also arrange synchronous (live) events that bond the group – I’ll return to that later. But, first, here are some tips for supporting learning community champions. 

      Champions play a crucial role in fostering a positive and supportive environment for learning and growth. Champions should be catalysts for interaction, leading the posting and sharing activity, responding to the posts of others and connecting people. By using them, you can ensure there is a group of people focused on driving engagement in the community. As role models, they can exemplify good community practices and actively communicate with others in a supportive manner. And they can promote a culture of learning and support within the community by encouraging others to get involved and contribute. This gives the community a better chance of succeeding as a space to share and learn.

      Champions can...

      • Role model good community practices.
      • Curate useful content.
      • Support the community culture.
      • Encourage others to participate.

      Strategies for Champions

      1. Develop a content pipeline.
        There’s a strong element of social media marketing in the role of learning community champion. Developing a content pipeline, which can be as simple as a list of links to share, means that there’s always something available to prompt discussion. 
      2. Create an events calendar.
        Knowing what’s coming up within the organisation and outside will help provide ideas and opportunities for sharing relevant information. This can include internal or external summits, or conferences, as well as events arranged specifically for the community.
      3. Organise live gatherings. 
        Small-scale live events (f2f or online) can develop a strong backbone for a community, providing opportunities to bond. These can be optional, but the value should be such that people want to attend. Options would be group reflection, brainstorming or problem-solving events, coffee break chats or Lunch & Learn-style get-togethers.  
      4. Develop routines. 
        Once a week (fortnight, or month) at a particular time, make it a routine to share a resource or ask a question. Add it to your content schedule and plan ahead. Consider giving it a name, such as “Top Tip Tuesday”, and share a relevant post that people will know is coming. Make it relevant and valuable or people will disengage.
      5. Engage senior leaders.
        Senior leaders can (and should) play a vital role in demonstrating the value of social learning within a community and supporting the development of a learning culture. Having them role-model sharing for others helps people see that this type of learning is valued. Support them to be involved, such as by notifying them of specific posts they could respond to, to add value, and discussions or events they could take part in.

      What’s in it for the Champions?

      It’s all very well suggesting that people take on this role as a champion. But what’s in it for them? To encourage people to be a champion, you’ll need to clearly outline the value proposition. 

      Being a community manager is a rewarding opportunity to foster engagement, knowledge sharing, and collaboration between community members. Champions have a direct impact on the success and effectiveness of the community, gain valuable skills in social media engagement and community building, increase their visibility within the organisation, and have opportunities for professional development – all while giving back to the community by providing support and mentorship to other members. What’s not to like? 


      So, if you’re seeking to boost engagement in an existing learning community space, or you want to set up a new one, consider using champions to drive engagement. And if you want support with community strategy, set up and maintenance, or if you’d like to talk to a consultant about informal learning strategy more generally, get in touch.  


      Talk to us today if you would like to find out how we can help you with your L&D offering!

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