Is eLearning Doomed to Be a Lonely Experience?

eLearning is a solitary and lonely experience, right? That’s what I used to think, but I’m not so sure anymore.

And this is coming from a real skeptic! I used to hold a wary eye to the whole “let’s make elearning more social through online communities” movement, assuming that there was no way it could really match the classroom experience or make up for real human interaction.

But over the last 6 months, my perspective has changed dramatically. It started with a course I recently signed up for, where the instructor kept drilling on the benefits of joining and interacting with the course’s Facebook group. I finally took the bait to see what the fuss was all about.

At first, I just browsed the discussion boards…but then I got more involved, actually posting a reply here and there and asking questions. Eventually, I started swapping notes with a few students who were really engaged in the course material.

This continued until one the fellow students and I decided to do something ridiculous. We setup a bi-weekly Skype call to help push each other through the material; and that’s how a stranger living 8,000 miles away from me became my accountability partner!

So if you’re a skeptic like me and still on the fence about the whole “online elearning communities” thing; here are four things you can do to get more value out of them.

#1: Be Active in the Community

Like anything in life, you have to use something to get value from it; and this is particularly true for elearning communities as they need active participants to thrive.

If you are looking to get more value out of your online communities, get more involved! Are you actively participating in group discussions? Have you reached out to others for help? Have you helped others by posting topics or by responding to their questions?

If you’re hesitant to get involved with a bunch of strangers, keep in mind that you probably have a lot more in common with them that you think. Not only are you all interested in learning the same skill (you’ve you all signed up for the same course, after all!), but you also have the shared experience of being in the course itself.

For new communities, the instructor(s) should take the lead and get people to participate by posting engaging questions, topics, and offering relevant additional information.

#2: Adding Value to the Community Takes Time

To get the most out of your participation in the community, you need to add value; so be prepared to invest some time to share thoughtful responses and material.

If you haven’t found anything interesting within the community itself, kick-start your own conversation to surface the people within the community that you’d like to interact with.

This is actually how I originally met my accountability partner: To generate more responses about a topic that was of prime importance to me, building a YouTube channel, I posted an account of my own attempts to build one up from scratch. In my post I was very specific about what I was attempting to do and asked the community if they had any suggestions.

In return, I received a number of responses and encouraging remarks, which helped to surface people within the community that I could have more meaningful conversations with, including my soon-to-be accountability partner.

#3: Stay Focused

Learn from the community by participating, but don’t let community participation become your full time job.

As one community moderator recently put it, you could spend ALL DAY in the community, asking and answering questions, posting additional material, etc., when in reality, you should remain focused on the main task at hand, learning the material and applying it in the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, community participation is key to getting more out of your elearning course, as you get to learn from other people’s experiences; you just don’t want it to take over your life.

#4: Reach Out

Nothing beats talking to real people in real time, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

The most value I’ve gotten out of elearning communities has come from reaching out to people and engaging them in real person-to-person conversations. Not only do you get to know someone better, talking to the actual person, but I’ve also found that discussing issues in real time is significantly faster than sending messages back and forth. I realize that this approach might not work out and can be time-consuming to setup and coordinate, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

What Do You Think?

All this is to say that I myself am making more of an effort to engage in the elearning communities that I’m a part of, and so far, I’ve gotten a lot of extra value out of it!

Do you have a positive or negative experience with elearning communities you want to share? Jump in and join the conversation below.

Don’t miss posts #1 and #2 in Taylor’s The eLearning Chronicles Series! 

Taylor Croonquist is the co-founder of Nuts & Bolts Speed Training which delivers actionable PowerPoint training courses for working professionals who spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours a year using the program.