As a training professional, I know what makes good online training and what makes boring and ineffective online training. We often get complaints that our training doesn’t present a variety of view points, it doesn’t go far enough, does not present enough practical examples, or that you can’t change attitudes or behavior with online training. These are all valid arguments that training professionals face in making the case for online training. But these days, social media can be used to address some of these issues with communities of practice for learning.
As always, the key to an effective learning experience is to get the learning to continue after the online course ends. Creating communities of practice, slowly generates trust, and turns learners into experts who will create and pass along their experiences, essentially creating user-generated content.
In most online communities, 90% of community members are lurkers. (Institute of Behavioural Research, 2008, Preece, Nonnecke, and Andrews , 2004) Lurkers get a great benefit from the community, as they come to the community for primarily to read and review the content. The trick to growing a community of practice however, is to change lurkers to participants. Lurkers generally do not contribute until they foresee a benefit to their contribution, or an increased social equity; social equity is essentially a raise in trust and status among community members. To increase social equity, lurkers must establish social networks of their own.
Communities of practice have an advantage over other types of communities in that their membership generally shares a common level of expertise or a common experience: for example, cardiac physicians, or people who have passed their CCNA certification, or even participants who attended the same online class. Content generated by the membership of a community of practice can even be perceived as more trustworthy than traditional content , (ITtoolbox and PJA Advertising + Marketing “IT Social Media Index, 2007), as audiences today feel as they can perceive the difference between traditional marketing-type content and user generated content. In a community of practice, this perception may be especially important, as there is a common level of expertise among the participants and therefore an implicit level of trust.
The more that community of practice members can make connections and engage with other members of the community to gain trust, the more they will feel comfortable making contributions to the community. Lurkers may start by simply rating a particular post or blog, but again, the community of practice advantage is their expertise, and shared experiences, which can make lurkers more comfortable in moving beyond ratings to actual postings.
Activity in a community of practice and the creation of user generated content has a strong correlation with the completeness of user profile information, making it easier for community of practice members to find and follow each other. After all, it is only natural that a community member will be more comfortable displaying knowledge and expressing opinions among friends, rather than strangers. Therefore in a community of practice, it is absolutely essential that participants are encouraged to complete their user profile information to more easily find friends and make content contributions to the community.
So take some time today to fill out your user profile and “follow” fellow community members, it’s the first step from moving from a lurker to a full-fledged community member.