Best Practices: Building Online Communities of Learning

Those of us enamored of library training, teaching, and learning programs sometimes learn as much by watching what makes a session effective as we do by simply trying to absorb and use the subject matter which is overtly being offered.
It’s partially about style (Web 1.0 teacher-to-learner lecturing vs. Web. 2.0 trainer-teacher-learner collaboration) and it’s partially about the important role communities continue to play in learning—a point which became more obvious to me as I attended (rather than participated in) a one-hour webinar this morning.
Let’s set the context: the presenter was someone whose work I admire. The topic was one which remains of great interest to me. Yet I found my mind wandering less than 10 minutes into the session. It took a few minutes for me to spot the problem. Many webcasts and webinars I attend, including those produced by Infopeople, offer chat functions and visible lists of participants’ names so that we can communicate directly with the presenter, individual colleagues, or the entire group during the live broadcasts; the webinar this morning lacked that sort of inclusivity. Furthermore, we were unable to see the questions which others were submitting online and any written responses which were provided while the speaker continued talking.
This simple omission of something which I’ve come to expect left me feeling strangely disconnected. I had no idea whether I was one of five participants or one of several hundred until I used the chat box to send a question to the webinar’s organizers and learned that I was one of approximately 60. This left me wondering whether anyone I knew was also in the audience since recognizing colleagues in a session often leads to post-session exchanges so we can continue sharing ideas and reinforcing what we’ve learned.
Developing a community of learners and trainers clearly helps to strengthen the effectiveness of training sessions whether they are face-to-face or online. We see this in the peer-to-peer efforts common in the Contra Costa County Library training program and we see it in the group attending Infopeople’s live webcasts and webinars as well as in the asynchronous online learning courses. Engagement is the key, and what was reinforced for me this morning was that simple acts to encourage this can make all the difference between a memorable and a disappointing training-teaching-learning experience.