Keeping learning alive in communities

May 19, 2008

A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. -Annie Hall, 1977

Two blogs posts, What Adds Community Value and Ning Death Syndrome a/k/a the dead shark problem recently caught my eye.

It seems we can learn some lessons from these two posts on why online communities thrive and how you can attain that in your organization. (I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be a dead shark. It’s bathing suit season after all!).

How to set up a community that most certainly will fail:

  • have no activity after initial contact
  • have just a couple of members
  • sporadically post
  • don’t have a mission
  • don’t post anything about provocative issues
  • don’t give it time to grow

How to set up a community that most certainly will thrive:

  • diverse opinions
  • instant communication
  • active participation
  • sharing
  • transparency
  • quality content
  • easy to use
  • welcoming
  • value

Sounds easy, no?

  • http://www.nixty.com/ Glen Moriarty

    I appreciate the breakdown and the honesty. Sometimes it feels like there is too much of a pressure to imagine that all social networks thrive; when, in reality, many just run their course. They achieve their end and then pass on to dead shark land.

    I think another key component to this is that there has to be *something* that the people are doing w/in that community of practice. There has to be some shared goal or activity that is interwoven by the users. We are trying to create such a community at http://www.nixty.com. We think teaching and learning will be that special *something* that draws people to engage and truly help one another. We haven’t launched yet, but I’ll keep you updated. I sure hope we don’t become a dead shark!

  • http://www.nixty.com Glen Moriarty

    I appreciate the breakdown and the honesty. Sometimes it feels like there is too much of a pressure to imagine that all social networks thrive; when, in reality, many just run their course. They achieve their end and then pass on to dead shark land.

    I think another key component to this is that there has to be *something* that the people are doing w/in that community of practice. There has to be some shared goal or activity that is interwoven by the users. We are trying to create such a community at http://www.nixty.com. We think teaching and learning will be that special *something* that draws people to engage and truly help one another. We haven’t launched yet, but I’ll keep you updated. I sure hope we don’t become a dead shark!

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    I belonged to the TRDEV listserv for about 10 years, when it was originally run by David Passmore of Penn State and then later in its TRDEV-L incarnation as a Yahoo group.

    I often said that 90% of the stuff there was of no use to me, but that I couldn’t predict when the 10% would show up.

    Apart from that, though, I could step back and see how often I’d saved an individual post and how often I’d contributed. Gradually both declined for me (I went from posting once a week, on average, to less than once a quearter) and I left the group.

    I’m not calling the list a dead shark; it simply didn’t offer anything I wanted to see, and I didn’t have anything I wanted to say.

    So virtual communities can change over time, I think, much like neighborhoods can.

    Looking at your list, Janet, I wonder whether “value” might be “shared values” — meaning, there could be a cluster of things that members of the community value. Not all members value everything in the cluster, but enough members value enough things that the shared items are little fibers strengthening the connection.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    I belonged to the TRDEV listserv for about 10 years, when it was originally run by David Passmore of Penn State and then later in its TRDEV-L incarnation as a Yahoo group.

    I often said that 90% of the stuff there was of no use to me, but that I couldn’t predict when the 10% would show up.

    Apart from that, though, I could step back and see how often I’d saved an individual post and how often I’d contributed. Gradually both declined for me (I went from posting once a week, on average, to less than once a quearter) and I left the group.

    I’m not calling the list a dead shark; it simply didn’t offer anything I wanted to see, and I didn’t have anything I wanted to say.

    So virtual communities can change over time, I think, much like neighborhoods can.

    Looking at your list, Janet, I wonder whether “value” might be “shared values” — meaning, there could be a cluster of things that members of the community value. Not all members value everything in the cluster, but enough members value enough things that the shared items are little fibers strengthening the connection.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Glen-

    Yes, I agree there has to be *something* to do in the community. Same thing when I walk into the village that is the community where I live. If nothing was open, I would just leave. I would leave too if I saw nothing of value – what Dave speaks of. So if you are launching your own community, I’d pay particular attention to value – information that might be hard to come by. (I would always go the place in the village that said “free beer” for example because free beer is hard to come by, but something I value).

    PS…Thanks for telling me about nixty.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Glen-

    Yes, I agree there has to be *something* to do in the community. Same thing when I walk into the village that is the community where I live. If nothing was open, I would just leave. I would leave too if I saw nothing of value – what Dave speaks of. So if you are launching your own community, I’d pay particular attention to value – information that might be hard to come by. (I would always go the place in the village that said “free beer” for example because free beer is hard to come by, but something I value).

    PS…Thanks for telling me about nixty.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    “Shared values” and “value” should probably both be there Dave.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    “Shared values” and “value” should probably both be there Dave.

  • https://shadylearning.wordpress.com/ Kevin S

    This is a great list and says a lot in a really simple way. I think it also applies to any community. An online community, local book club, meditation group, civics club, whatever.

    One thing I might add: Authenticity or genuineness. The person leading or focusing the community should bring a sense of authenticity. He/she should be genuine — truly behind the community and sincerely interested in its success. And authentically passionate about it. Is this the same as being “transparent?”

  • https://shadylearning.wordpress.com Kevin S

    This is a great list and says a lot in a really simple way. I think it also applies to any community. An online community, local book club, meditation group, civics club, whatever.

    One thing I might add: Authenticity or genuineness. The person leading or focusing the community should bring a sense of authenticity. He/she should be genuine — truly behind the community and sincerely interested in its success. And authentically passionate about it. Is this the same as being “transparent?”

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    Janet, can you say a little more about “value” and “shared value?” What I had in mind is something like this:

    Take that TRDEV listserv. Some members found value in the advice posted by certain people who were expert (or experienced) in some topic. Some members found value in being able to ask questions. Some members found value in being able to share their opinion, experience, or expertise. Some members found value in being able to read or participant in discussions (or threads with disagreements) because the discussion added to the reader’s knowledge.

    Not all members of the list shared all of these values, and not all members would give the same weight to any one value. But on the average, enough members as individuals (a) shared enough of the values with some other members and (b) found sufficient value for themselves, to remain. (That explains why “lurk” is not necessarily a four-letter word.)

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Janet, can you say a little more about “value” and “shared value?” What I had in mind is something like this:

    Take that TRDEV listserv. Some members found value in the advice posted by certain people who were expert (or experienced) in some topic. Some members found value in being able to ask questions. Some members found value in being able to share their opinion, experience, or expertise. Some members found value in being able to read or participant in discussions (or threads with disagreements) because the discussion added to the reader’s knowledge.

    Not all members of the list shared all of these values, and not all members would give the same weight to any one value. But on the average, enough members as individuals (a) shared enough of the values with some other members and (b) found sufficient value for themselves, to remain. (That explains why “lurk” is not necessarily a four-letter word.)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Kevin-
    Interesting to ponder…authenticity and transparency.
    Authenticity (to me) is about truthfulness and transparency (to me) is about openness.

    So, when I’m writing about this topic in this blog, I’m making sure I attribute information, keep things in the right context, not change information (vs. just making meaning which of course is OK). RE: transparency…it’s being able to say I don’t have the answers, this hasn’t worked for me (and here’s why), etc.

    (BTW…I totally agree that this is crucial…no one likes BS, blather, etc.)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Kevin-
    Interesting to ponder…authenticity and transparency.
    Authenticity (to me) is about truthfulness and transparency (to me) is about openness.

    So, when I’m writing about this topic in this blog, I’m making sure I attribute information, keep things in the right context, not change information (vs. just making meaning which of course is OK). RE: transparency…it’s being able to say I don’t have the answers, this hasn’t worked for me (and here’s why), etc.

    (BTW…I totally agree that this is crucial…no one likes BS, blather, etc.)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Dave – your explanation is excellent.

    I think the value the community brings to individual members is as important as the value of the content itself.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Dave – your explanation is excellent.

    I think the value the community brings to individual members is as important as the value of the content itself.

  • http://www.nixty.com/ Glen Moriarty

    Janet – yes, I totally agree, value is key. People have to want to do something. It really has to be intrinsic. What we are trying to provide is a platform on which others can add value – whether they be institutions, educators, or students. I think each of these groups find value in different ways.

    Institutions often keep communities/LMS alive because they have to – they are the lifeblood of the school, college, or business. Educators, from the little bit of research I’ve done, are seeming to find value primarily in sharing learning materials, networking with other teachers to share teaching tips/hints, having a professional/easy to setup web presence, and making money.

    Learners are an entirely different category with a bunch of subcategories. These are very broad sub-categories, but they begin to hint at the value these groups might be looking for.
    -lifelong learners – want to learn new skills and keep their minds young.
    -test-prep – a place to encourage each other and find study materials to pass the GMAT, LSAT, GRE etc.
    -students – K-12 and college – ability to form study groups
    -homeschoolers – place to connect, share curriculum and share teaching responsibilities amongst parents.

    I’m really enjoying this discussion. Thanks for posting on it. I plan on writing a bit more on our company blog on this issue.

  • http://www.nixty.com Glen Moriarty

    Janet – yes, I totally agree, value is key. People have to want to do something. It really has to be intrinsic. What we are trying to provide is a platform on which others can add value – whether they be institutions, educators, or students. I think each of these groups find value in different ways.

    Institutions often keep communities/LMS alive because they have to – they are the lifeblood of the school, college, or business. Educators, from the little bit of research I’ve done, are seeming to find value primarily in sharing learning materials, networking with other teachers to share teaching tips/hints, having a professional/easy to setup web presence, and making money.

    Learners are an entirely different category with a bunch of subcategories. These are very broad sub-categories, but they begin to hint at the value these groups might be looking for.
    -lifelong learners – want to learn new skills and keep their minds young.
    -test-prep – a place to encourage each other and find study materials to pass the GMAT, LSAT, GRE etc.
    -students – K-12 and college – ability to form study groups
    -homeschoolers – place to connect, share curriculum and share teaching responsibilities amongst parents.

    I’m really enjoying this discussion. Thanks for posting on it. I plan on writing a bit more on our company blog on this issue.

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