Online Learning Communities: A Necessary Tool for 2017

January 5, 2017

Picture 21st centry skills and the workplace - a report by Gallup #onlinelearningcommunities

In partnership with Microsoft and Pearson, Gallup released a brief report summarizing the results of a 2013 survey they’d conducted on 21st century skills, education and work quality. 21st Century Skills and the Workplace cites seven skill areas identified by the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project.


They are:

  • Collaboration
  • Knowledge construction
  • Skilled communication
  • Global awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Real-world problem solving
  • Use of technology for learning

As we reviewed this list it became clear that online learning communities can support the development of each one. Here are some reasons why:



In The Lean Startup author Eric Ries writes: “Yet if the fundamental goal of entrepreneurship is to engage in organization building under conditions of extreme uncertainty, its most vital function is learning.” An online learning community fosters collaboration – and ultimately innovation – simply because it’s built by peer-to-peer connections. Put another way, we all know that work gets done because of relationships, relationships that may not show up as connections on an org chart. We also know that successfully solving problems depends on the degree to which expertise can be readily shared/accessed across business units. Online learning communities can be the catalyst for relationships that wouldn’t likely exist in the normal course of daily operations. As these connections are established, relationships deepen and insights and information from a variety of perspectives now flows more readily throughout the organization.


Knowledge construction

Hands-down, when it comes to the impact of online learning communities on both the facilitator and the learner, this is the one that tops the list. While engaged in the learning process individuals are also creating meaningful content and interactions. It’s these documented insights – by the community, for the community – that then become a dynamic, context-rich, member-focused knowledge base that has value now and in the future.


Skilled communication

Finding the balance between practicing humility and sharing expertise, between building relationships and locating information, between responding quickly and getting the details right are daily exercises when part of a learning community. This kind of skill building is just another example of how online experiences can create value offline.


Global awareness

Much like social networks serve as worldwide news channels, online learning communities allow colleagues from around the world or around the corner to share insights with one another. Leadership development is a perfect example. The opportunity to explore with your peers how concepts are applied in a variety of situations and cultures (context anyone?!) is invaluable. And don’t forget that while you’re creating a shared learning experience that spans locations, teams, geography, etc. you’re also helping to foster relationships that over time can tear down the silos that get in the way of getting things done.



Digital presence is one phrase that’s used to describe our online persona or the way we conduct ourselves in online environments. For example, it can refer to how an online instructor interacts with and is available to his/her students. A concern often raised when “social” is core to any use of technology has to do with inappropriate user behavior. However, any community manager will tell you that the vast majority of user-to-user interactions require no moderation at all. In a learning environment, where a shared experience is being created for the benefit of each individual participant and the group as a whole, members have a vested interest in professional and purposeful interactions.


Real-world problem solving

If knowledge construction tops the list of learning community impacts then this is number two. In real estate, we all know the driver is location, location, location. In learning, it’s context, context, context. Rather than crafting hypothetical scenarios that no matter how well-developed or well-delivered are disassociated from day-to-day work, learning communities enable members to work with actual challenges currently facing their organization. And don’t forget the added bonus of being able to interact directly with the co-workers that have to execute the potential solutions!


Use of technology for learning

With robust toolsets that allow you to: deploy all kinds of multimedia, construct experiences that blend social and self-directed learning, leverage proprietary and open source content, online learning communities are must-haves for today’s workplace.



stan_portraitStan’s first experience with instructional technology occurred in 1999 when he used SMART Boards to help employees learn how to use the Microsoft Office Suite. He then became an instructional designer and systems trainer for a variety of proprietary CRM software solutions. From there, Stan worked as a Training Manager and later as a Project Manager for an early leader in online education. As his experience with online learning grew, and as his understanding of the need to connect strategy with technology evolved, Stan began to focus on the relationship between blended learning and social business. It was these insights that attracted him to Jive and Pokeshot’s SmarterPath LMS the first time he saw it in 2012. Stan’s current role with the company not only allows him to support the sales, marketing, and product development teams, but it also allows him to work directly with customers as they implement SmarterPath. Prior to joining Pokeshot in October 2016, Stan spent several years working as a freelance consultant, successfully completing learning technology projects for such clients as Right Management, National University System and the U.S. Forest Service.