8 tips for online learning community activities

Augustin Théodule Ribot: The ConversationIn a purely social community, collaboration and communication can be very open and unstructured. But when incorporating online community approaches into courses, we normally need to adopt a more structured approach to meet needs of the curriculum and the learners.

Here are some tips for this situation:

  1. The start of the activity is important – so welcome people and set a positive tone. Don’t overload people with information – start gently!
  2. Focus on participant needs – so exploring and sharing existing knowledge is often a great place to start.
  3. Give clear instructions and information about the activity – break the activity into digestible chunks so participants can focus on one thing at a time. Move supplementary information (ie info which is not key to the activity) to subsidiary pages.
  4. Use triggers to build engagement – eg provide a video or a link to an online survey, then follow with a directly-related question.
  5. Use open questions – eg ‘why do you think…?‘ These are more likely to generate higher-level thinking and in-depth discussion.
  6. Be a bit provocative – a trigger or question which is controversial is likely to generate engagement. But avoid topics which are too risky as these can lead to dangerous conflict – if you’re inexperienced as a facilitator this can be hard to deal with.
  7. Consider the flow of the activity – it is often preferable to deal with one question at a time, allowing participants to focus on one question at a time. You can start with prior experience or knowledge, then move in a developmental sequence to more in-depth questions. If you pose multiple questions from the beginning, especially with smaller groups, the community focus can be easily dissipated and lose momentum.
  8. The end of the activity is important – you should at least farewell participants and thank them for taking part. Consider also how the key points that arose can be summarised and published – true collaboration is not just discussing but generating new and powerful knowledge that should not be lost. You might ask for a volunteer to do this.

Image: Augustin Théodule Ribot: The Conversation

4 thoughts on “8 tips for online learning community activities

  1. Dana Karem

    Hello Paul,
    Thanks for the tips especially the last one:

    “The end of the activity is important – you should at least farewell participants and thank them for taking part.”

    I unfortunately did not do this with my online community activity. I will do it next time.

    1. Paul Left Post author

      Yes, sometimes it’s not easy to remember the need for ‘personal presence’ online – we are used to doing it face to face more naturally perhaps.

  2. South University Richmond

    i have been to numerous group meetings over the internet and they are all complete mess. the tips you posted are quite useful especially in bringing order in those chaotic meetings. thank you! i believe somehow there should be a leader figure who will keep tabs. there are a lot of things we can forget when brainstorming or what-have-you.


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