I am a strong proponent of moving learning into online community, to enable learning to be every day. I feel online community fulfils several deep needs in human beings; that of belonging, another of identity, plus also that of learning and challenge. Once upon a time, we fulfilled those needs with our physical community, however I believe that over time we have lost touch with our local communities. With both parents going out to work, with wider choices of schools, with migration of all forms, with urban sprawl swallowing up town’s distinct identities, our children are no longer rooted to their place of birth. They have limited connection to their homes.

Yet we are social creatures, and as such, we need to be connected to each other. If geography is no longer our connection, we seek to fill that void elsewhere, physically perhaps with sports clubs or our place of work, and also wider still online. The rise of online community, particularly for learning with communities of practice or collaboration tools is, therefore, no surprise to me. We seek to connect to other human beings who are like-minded or have similar hobbies and interests. We have Pinterest sharing recipes, Facebook pages centred around raising children, or Instagram accounts dedicated to sharing long distance running support. People have always learned from each other socially; the chat in the pub, the dog walkers, the gossip over the garden fence. Technology simply enables those pubs, fields and garden fences to now be miles apart.

It is again no surprise that community, that learning, takes place in our workplaces in a similar fashion. People have always learnt from people. We all know the value of the water cooler or smoking hut chats. When I start working with my clients as they embrace digital learning, I always say that these conversations are happening anyway; all moving online does for you is make them easier for more people to have. Your delivery drivers will have set up WhatsApp groups, your sales team are using Salesforce Chatter, your operational teams are likely to be friends on Facebook. Yet often these online communities connected to work are peripheral, not acknowledged, or even worse, discouraged.

My first guest of the new series of #NoPlasters on Learning Now TV was Professor Eddie Obeng. Professor Obeng exists to many of his students as a virtual avatar, as he has created an online community of practice based in virtual reality called QUBE. In his TED talk, Eddie said the rules have changed, the world is changed. He shared his thoughts on how this change has impacted community and work. What Eddie has learnt from establishing online community can help others. Please click the links below to hear from Eddie directly in our Learning Now TV interview, and his TED talk. The kind of things we talked about on LNTV can be summarised in terms of making things easy, practicality, control, measurement and purpose.

Community always needs purpose – whether online or in reality. People need to know why they are coming together, what their culture and support network is about. Community also needs to be easy, both in accessibility and also once in the community. Welcoming through easy access is hugely important to engagement. In practical terms for business, we discussed how community is stifled because business wants to control its people. There is a fear of loss of control by management, however when people are free to learn, free to work, they use what they know – community. Eddie’s best measurement of success in his online community is laughter. People need to feel relaxed to learn, and relaxed to laugh. I love that as a success measurement!

Community for me is the glue of society, and a massively important part of my life physically through family, friends, church, and Girlguiding locally. And online through Slack, Twitter, Facebook, webinar, plus now also Instagram and QUBE. We employee human beings not machines, and community therefore is a massive part of their lives too. Giving people a place to connect, to share, to learn from each other is more than a top tip for #NoPlasters followers; in my opinion, provision of space to share learning is a fundamental need of any sound L&D department. Where are your people connecting and what are you doing to help them in that space?

Some Tips on Community

  • Discover what you can do to build community with no budget, no time, and no resources by asking what people in your organisation do now. How can you help them do that more efficiently, more effectively, and more enjoyably?
  • Accept community is happening anyway, so build it into your learning programmes.
  • Set up communities of practice for people in your workplace and encourage people to keep going back, offering value, and sharing success stories.
  • Read Etienne Wenger’s work.
  • Investigate John Stepper’s Working Out Loud to engage in open communities of practice.
  • Find out where people are having conversations now outside of your organisation, and how they benefit from them. Facilitate more of those happening.
  • Set up lunch and learn timetable with internal subject matter experts.
  • Set up mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes.
  • Provide nice space for people to gather and meet.
  • Encourage social time – team to have lunch together every day, for example.
  • Please share your ‘community’ tips in the Blog Comments.

Learning Now TV #NoPlasters

In 2015 #NoPlasters started on Twitter as a campaign to support real people in real workplaces with top tips, ideas and inspiration on how to move L&D towards a more modern, consultative, blended learning practice. The movement shifted to Learning Now TV in 2016, where the tips continued to be shared. In 2017 with interviews of people outside the L&D ‘bubble’, their frame of reference offered new perspectives for learning practitioners. In the new development to the series, during 2018 we will explore key themes in L&D with guests in an effort, as ever, to offer practical ideas to L&Ders on how the world of L&D can develop their practice. These bi-monthly interviews will be supported with blogs on the themes.

The first themed conversation was broadcast on 22nd February 2018. We explored the changing face of community and the impact on learning with award winning, TED Talker, Professor Eddie Obeng of the Virtual Business School.

Our LNTV Interview:


Eddie Obeng’s TED Talk: