Blake Beus gives us tips for better learning communities.
A good business needs to maximise the use of every tool in its arsenal. But, one major tool often goes unused and underappreciated, and that tool is the creation and reinforcement of learning communities. Learning communities are one of the most powerful driving forces for change and improvement within a company, and their successful implementation can result in a stronger workforce.
When constructed correctly, learning communities build an environment for everyone to join in a cycle of reflection, problem-solving, and application to meet new goals and objectives.
Building a learning community
To understand the benefits that learning communities create, let’s take a look at the process of building one from the ground up. Creating a learning community may sound simple, but there are a lot of ways that they can go wrong.
Too often learning communities fail due to poor communication, a lack of clear objectives, poorly defined decision-making processes, and/or toxic competitive environments.
Communicating effectively with and within the learning community is one of the most difficult aspects of this process. Too often learning communities fail due to poor communication, a lack of clear objectives, poorly defined decision-making processes, and/or toxic competitive environments.
With so much that can go wrong, how do we make a learning community succeed? It’s possible – we just need to focus on the three P’s: plan, people, and personalise.
Like all worthwhile endeavours, having a plan is essential for success. Before you begin, take the time to define the purpose of creating this learning community. Create a goals-based plan of action that you would like to see fulfilled, and develop the learning community with that plan in mind.
Once you’ve defined your purpose, you will have a better handle on the goals and objectives that you would like your employees to meet. Knowing what you are trying to accomplish means you know which direction you need to move to reach the goals.
After you develop your objective, it’s time to discuss logistics. How often will the group meet? Will the group meet in person or via social media? How will the group function? Most importantly, who will be the leader or mediator for their learning community?
Answering these questions early on helps the learning community avoid the small communication breakdowns that can seriously derail a meeting.
By setting these rules and guidelines, the learning community begins to understand communicating within the group. Answering these questions will also create an environment of respect and collaboration that emphasises cooperation over competition.
A community doesn’t work without people, and the people who make up the learning community dictate how effective the learning community will be. Taking the time to build relationships among group members is crucial to their ability to work together.
First of all, everyone must take the time to introduce themselves and emphasise what they bring to the meetings and hope to get out of them. Make sure to offer a list of good icebreaker activities once your community has been assembled.
Starting everyone off on the right foot will help you understand exactly who makes up the community and what they will bring to the group dynamic. This will also help you and the community leaders understand what areas of the group dynamic might need a bit more reinforcement.
Once the community has gotten to know one another, the group should either elect a leader to represent them, or have someone volunteer. The leader can be someone that you appoint, but the process tends to work better when the group has agreed on their leader.
It’s the leader’s responsibility to understand the group’s functions and goals, while also making sure tasks get accomplished and meetings stay on track. A group leader ensures that the community’s goals are being met in a way that best fits their learning community.
After the group has been organised and a leader has been chosen, it’s time to personalise.
Each learning community is unique, not only because of its goals, but because of its members. Each person brings different learning styles, needs, strengths, and weaknesses to the table, and the learning community must understand their group dynamic and adapt their strategies in consideration of their different group members.
Learning communities need to ensure that everyone is collaborating and building upon each other’s ideas. Since every group is unique, this solution will be unique as well, and it is up to you, the leader, and the learning community to personalise the learning community so the team gets the most out of their meetings and status updates.
Benefits of learning communities
A learning community’s benefits are based on a simple rule: you get out what you put in. A community that meets regularly and hears from every group member will accomplish so much more than a community that meets rarely and is dominated by a single voice.
A well-built learning community leads everyone to accomplish the primary objectives; but it doesn’t stop there. The community takes what they have learned and can apply it to other goals, other projects, and even other learning communities.
One of the advantages of creating learning communities is that they can be applied to anything. A recent study found that when teachers applied this concept in their classroom they had amazing results.
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Students began to have more motivation to work and higher performance on tests, which culminated in a group of students who had increased participation because they gained confidence in themselves, their work, and their education.
Getting the most out of learning communities
A learning community is a delicate balance between a comforting and critical environment. The community has to be critical enough to grow and develop, but caring enough to ensure that no one shuts down. To maximise your learning communities, researchers created a simple cycle: critical interrogation, application, and reflection.
New information goes through a group interrogation/analysis. Working together, the learning community finds problems, pitfalls, and solutions to the information. The community takes that critical analysis and newly found strategies and applies them in the workplace.
Once applied, the learning community carefully reflects on the new process to determine if their goals are being met and/or where more improvements can be made.
These results then go through the process again and again. Each application of the cycle creates a stronger application and closer learning community.
Regardless of size or industry, a learning community is an essential asset for every business that wants to ensure that everyone works in collaboration to solve problems and meet new objectives. Take some time to think about how a learning community can help benefit your particular business and team.
Throughout this process, you’ll soon discover a way to help your employees become more collaborative and productive.
About the author
Blake Beus is director of learning solutions at Allencomm. He has extensive experience in healthcare and financial services. What Blake enjoys most about his role at Allen is helping organisations implement initiatives that have real impact on the business.