There’s growing recognition that communities of practice—peer-to-peer learning groups—offer an effective way to work together on a common problem, share strategies, and deepen members’ knowledge. With today’s technology, more and more of these groups are being conducted online rather than face to face. Education Northwest staff members who have expertise in this area have distilled their experience into four practical lessons to follow when creating or nurturing such online communities.
The brief, one of a series of Lessons Learned on topical educational concerns, discusses issues such as member engagement, the role of the facilitator, the need to blend face-to-face and online approaches, and technology support. The authors point out that “it is easier to opt-out of online communities than it is to avoid local, face-to-face commitments. Therefore, community members will need compelling reasons to make time for participating.” Ideally those reasons should reflect the needs of the members rather than being imposed by an outside organizer.
Another lesson points to the changing role of the moderator: As the online community grows and becomes more active, the moderator will focus more on keeping the group on track rather than posing questions and responding to posts.
In addition to lessons, the publication contains resources, a checklist of elements that promote a successful online community of practice, and examples of some of the communities Education Northwest has organized and facilitated. Among those examples is the YouthBuild USA National Mentoring Alliance site that features discussion forums, e-learning modules, archived webinars, and links to data-reporting websites.