What makes a great community for learning & knowledge exchange

I’m a big advocate of the potential for peer led networks and communities to help improve performance, build shared understanding and develop professional practice. I’ve written about this before and I’m looking forward to talking about my experiences of building networks and communities in and beyond the workplace at the Learning Technologies conference at the end of this month. I’ll maybe see some of you there, and if you’re coming along you can also pick my brains at an LT eXchanges session on the 28th Jan.

As Julian Stodd has expressed beautifully in his work on the Social Age, agile learning and community building are key to how we can continue to make sense of our rapidly changing world. We have moved on from (or at least we should have) assuming that the classroom or instruction are always the best route for helping our teams make sense of their work, learn new approaches and develop their practice. Communities, and conversations, whether face to face or online, formal or informal, are critical.


Image by Julian Stodd

But where do you start and how can we support communities so that they flourish and grow?

I’ve found networks & communities can be invaluable for empowering staff and appreciating & recognising the expertise already in your organisation. They can also help to expose great work which sometimes get buried within team or departmental silos. I’ve had some really positive experiences watching communities grow and visibly fizz with energy but equally have seen well-intentioned networks and communities start loudly and then fade away.

A sense of shared purpose is important, as is having the right organisational foundations and support, but it’s not always easy especially when everyone is busy and hard pressed for time. Even with the best intentions sometimes communities of practice don’t take off or have the hoped for effect.

I’ll be (attempting!) to tweet the key messages from my slot on the day but I’m really keen to gather other perspectives and experiences for sharing with the audience, I know many of you out there have your own insights and experiences to share so I’m asking for your help, I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions:

  • what makes for a great community of practice?
  • what experiences have you had, good and bad?
  • what advice would you give to someone just starting out with a new community?


Image from jarche.com

Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll share them on the day (with attribution) and here…

6 thoughts on “What makes a great community for learning & knowledge exchange

  1. Hi Kandy I have successfully set up two CoPs – one personal one #ozleaarn and one work related a L&D CoP cross public and private sector.

    My hints / tips in setting these up are:

    1. Focus on need of community – ozlearn was set up to accommodate Oz based L&d practitioners to participate in tweet chat at a time convenient to them. L&D CoP was established due to the need to leverage of each other’s products and work and not having to re-create product but rather share and replicate – both examples of tapping into and listening to needs of community.

    2. Gain support from influential practitioners / professionals. Ask if they can do a guest spot for you – promote and advertise and they will come.

    3. Provide post meeting / catch up support either via Twitter, email or personal contact. How was that CoP for you today? What is one thing you think you can apply to your organisation? Storify / archive the chat or the notes of the meeting.

    4. Provide nourishment / food where F2F CoP meeting – yes they do come for the food but once they are there they are committed and engaged.

    5. Ask them to drive the Agenda / rotate the meetings/ what are the topics they would like to discuss – what is keeping them awake at night?

    6. Ensure you have a good cross section been represented – if new potential members re thinking of attending they want to know if anyone else from their sector will be there? Will I have anyone there that has something in common with me? So when inviting spread the net wide.

    7. Develop a logo an identity they can relate to – maybe they can use this isn their blog that they are members of this exclusive group.

    8. Set up a portal to share and continue conversations – Ozlearn has a Linked in Group where we post and share.

    Hope these help.



  2. Hi Kandy, great that you are putting what you will be preaching into practice! I have two examples.
    1) I, and a couple of colleagues, set up a weekly knowledge sharing event at a large corporate. It was called Elevenses and happened every Thursday at 11am. We curated the content by asking people who were doing interesting things to come and talk about what they were doing – the organisation ( a publisher) was going through a lot of change as media went from print to digital. We set up an internal blog to share the highlights of the event and used Yammer to keep discussions going too. This event was the most popular L&D initiative because it was created by us, the journalists, for us. We knew who the community was, their needs and designed content for that. We also worked hard to promote events and to keep momentum. Without it things can flag and fail. I’m also wary of L&D terms like community of practice because not everyone knows what one is. Our event was Elevenses and we built a community around that. So, think about who the community is, what it needs, how it needs it and work hard to make it happen and sustain it. Marketing is also important.
    2) I helped a client create a set of new websites and a part of the strategy was to create a community. We built a platform in WordPress and tried to do our best to grow the community. BUT the purpose was not clear and there were very limited resources which meant it was hard to sustain. In the end we had to close it down because there was a lack of resource to make it happen. In some senses we didn’t have the clear purpose and a good sense of what the community wanted. Interestingly, this client had a great (and active) Facebook presence which had been built up over years. We tried to bring those people into the new community but the best thing we could have done was make the Facebook page the actual community area of the site. This is what we ended up doing. Lessons here – again, be clear on who, what and how. And also go and fish where the fish are – if the community is active already in one place just try and use that first and develop from there.


  3. Thanks Kandy, like you I have exactly the same interests with social learning, communities and networks! I have collated a series of posts on a Social Onboarding Program I created and these can be found here http://activatelearning.com.au/2015/01/part-3-of-a-social-onboarding-case-study/

    Alternatively I’m also working on a Social Learning Guided Design 5 week program called Work, Connect and Learn with @MichelleOckers at CCA on creating a community of practice with their national engineering and maintenance teams using enterprise social networking platforms. The program will roll out in mid February so stand by for more information over time. I have written the first blog post about it here http://activatelearning.com.au/2014/12/work-connect-and-learn-program-the-strategy-phase/

    For other examples of building community, I have created Third Place (a social networking, co-working and learning group) consisting of people interested in all things learning. With over 200 members across 5 states in Australia, we have various events (all free) which are informal gatherings of people to connect, share, learn and network. You can see all the posts related to Third Place here http://activatelearning.com.au/?s=third+place

    Hope this is enough information and apologies for linking my blog posts but they’re a “portfolio” of work around the question you asked!


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