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Top 6 Ways to Build a Successful Learning Community

Negin Sairafi
March 24, 2022

In this guide you will learn:

A Learning Community consists of a group of people who regularly connect and convene based on one or more points of affinity or interest. On Disco, a Learning Community is the ‘home-base’ for all the Events, learning experiences, and asynchronous opportunities for connection that you offer your members. 

The purpose of your Learning Community—why it exists and who it’s for—will guide many of the decisions you make as you grow your academy, bootcamp, or micro-school. Defining the purpose of your Learning Community will also inform the positioning of your community when it comes time to market and scale. There are 3 important factors to keep in mind as you think about your Learning Community’s purpose and your ideal member:  

Define the point of affinity

What is your community about? Why would someone want to be a part of your Learning Community? When you clearly define your community’s point of affinity—the thing that everyone in that community cares about and is willing to show up for and rally around—you can easily communicate it with potential members, as well as make it easier for your current members to talk about with their extended networks. The more well-defined your community’s point of affinity, the more enthusiastic, passionate, and values-aligned members you’ll attract.

Sarah Lacy, founder of ChairmanMe, is a great example of setting affinity and intention for a community. Originally named ChairmanMom, her Learning Community was born in an effort to connect working mothers in a virtual forum. Amidst a global pandemic and protests, a conversation with a former coworker inspired her to do more and expand her community to all women.

The problem was that women didn't have skin in the game and [my coworker] was like ‘you gotta do more to get real skin in the game,’” Sarah recalls. “Women don't wake up in the morning wanting to tear other women down, we get baited into this by a white supremacist society.”

Thus, ChairmanMom became ChairmanMe, a Learning Community for all women of all ages, backgrounds, and values to share conversation, ideas, and inspiration.

Focus on a niche market

Getting really clear on who you’re serving by focusing on a niche group of people will help you differentiate your Learning Community and attract the individuals that will benefit most from what you’re offering. Not sure if there will be enough people to serve if you narrow your focus? Take inspiration from BatteryMBA, a virtual academy and Learning Community that helps its members become leaders in the battery field. By focusing on a hyper-niche market, they have not only positioned themselves as sector leaders, but tapped into an industry that’s expected to grow to 800K+ professionals in Europe alone.

Provide value and design feedback loops

Learning communities are powered by shared learning experiences. No matter what the purpose of your community is and who you happen to serve, communicating your ‘why’ is done best through generosity, consistent engagement, and opportunities for contribution. Value is created when you give, listen, and include your community, as well as when you create space for peer-to-peer connection and learning to occur. Whether you’re engaging your community through an Event Series, Cohort-Based Course, Self-Paced Course, Mastermind, or simply via events and asynchronous feeds, asking the right questions, and integrating community feedback into your process and offerings will no doubt lead to members becoming champions.

Building and growing a successful virtual Learning Community requires time, effort, and the right set of tools and resources to enable and encourage meaningful connection and peer-to-peer interaction.

Here are the top 6 tips for building a successful virtual learning community on Disco: 

Build and Customize Your Learning Community to Attract Your Ideal Members 

Once you’re clear about who your Learning Community is for, you can create and customize Disco’s community dashboard to be a reflection of your brand, values, and mission. It’s a virtual space and central hub where existing and new members can feel welcome, access resources, register for upcoming events and learning experiences, as well as engage with posts. 

We recommend the following steps to begin building out your learning community:

Add your branding

In the settings section of your admin dashboard, add your logo, update your favicon, and choose between ‘light’ or ‘dark’ mode–this changes how the content of the Learning Community will be displayed. Depending on which Disco plan you’re on, you can also customize colors so your Learning Community looks and feels like your brand.

Create your header

The Learning Community header is front and center when members enter the space. We recommend using a branded image with minimal text to capture their attention and introduce the community. Below the header you can include a punchy heading with a short paragraph description about your Learning Community to let members know who you are, why you exist, and who you intend to serve.

Add a Welcome Page

You can create custom pages with Disco’s rich text editor that live in the left navigation of your Learning Community dashboard. To ensure members can orient themselves and know how to show up in the space, we recommend adding a welcome page with a few guidelines on how to engage in the platform and with other members.

Add a post in feeds

Feeds let your members know what’s going on in the Learning Community. Having a few posts in your feed as members enter the community will help them feel welcome and more acquainted with the space. Members can also like and comment posts, which is a great way to catalyze asynchronous discussions (more on that below).

Create an Event

When members enter the Learning Community space, they’ll likely want to know if there are any upcoming events or learning experiences they can take part in. By clicking ‘Events’ in the left navigation, you can create one-off events that your members can register for with a click of a button. We recommend having at least one published event in your Learning Community to create momentum and promote engagement.

Your Learning Community dashboard is a space members will return to again and again. Make it a vibrant place by adding your branding and creating opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous engagement. Here are a few learning communities built on Disco we hope can inspire you as you build yours: 

Every Realm – View Community

The Fountain Institute – View Community

Sales Genius – View Community

Invite Members to Join Your Learning Community 

Without active members, communities are empty environments waiting to be discovered and explored. Once you’ve created and branded your community, you’ll want to invite members to participate. In the settings of your Learning Community dashboard, you can decide whether you want your community to be private, only people you invite will be able to join, or public, anyone on the internet can access your community. 

If you choose a private community, you can manually invite members one by one with their emails or by uploading a CSV. Some benefits of a private community are:

  • The ability to curate members through direct invitation.

  • Option to invite members individually or in batches to have more time to onboard each member or group.

  • Opportunity to create a safer space by ensuring that only ‘vetted’ members can join.

  • And more!

If you choose a public community, anyone who comes across your community can register and join, which would then give them direct access to your Learning Community. Some benefits of a public community are:

  • Anyone can easily join! If your mission is to grow, a public Learning Community could help save you time by enabling you to share the community link with anyone, like Shane Parish’s Farnam Street Learning Community that’s open to anyone willing to share ideas, articles, and unique thoughts.

  • With fewer barriers to entry, potential members may feel more welcome because the community is not an exclusive space.

  • Members can invite their friends. There can be an incredible network effect with public communities.

  • And more!

When it comes to building and growing a Learning Community, there are unique opportunities with private and public learning communities. We recommend clarifying the mission of your online education business and aligning your approach to community building with your short and long-term goals. If you want to grow quickly, perhaps a public community will work best for you. If you’re hoping to grow slow and steady while having more control over who can participate, then we’d suggest going with a private Learning Community. 

The good news is you can change your community settings at any time. Once you have some active members and some insight on how they’re engaging with the content, events, and with one another, you can reiterate on your community strategy.

Gather and Engage Members by Offering Free and Paid Live Events 

Communities of all kinds thrive on rituals. In learning communities, rituals are activities and/or events that bring members together—they help people connect over shared interests, create meaningful bonds, and feel a sense of belonging. Rituals can look like weekly gatherings, a themed post that gets shared every week on the same day (i.e. Wisdom Wednesdays), or a standard way to begin/end a live event. 

When it comes to building a Learning Community, a great place to start is with free live events. Live events help you build trust with your members by enabling them to experience your content and connect with their peers through your gatherings. Over time, members may feel an affinity for your brand, get curious to learn more, and be inspired to take action.

The team at WeAreNoCode uses this exact strategy to help potential members better understand their offerings and what they can expect from being a member of their Learning Community: 

“Create valuable free stuff to get people into your world. We have a free course which essentially outlines all the steps that we teach in depth so that people can get an understanding of what they're getting into when it comes to the process of launching stuff.”

Existing and potential members may also want to attend one of your live events before they consider opting into one of your premium offers (like a Cohort-Based Course or Mastermind).

One Disco customer who used a live event strategy to grow their learning community and sell out the first cohort of their course is Dribbble Education. Learn more about their journey to success: How Dribbble Built Their First Cohort-Based Course on Disco and Enrolled 240 Students in 3 Months.

When you’re ready to host your first event, you can go to the events tab in your community dashboard and create a free or paid event. Disco’s deep integration with Zoom makes it easy for you to create live events without having to use multiple platforms or send email reminders. members can view and register for events with a click of a button. Automated time zones and email reminders, and feeds makes it less likely for members to miss a live event, but because the realities of life and work can present barriers, we recommend including a summary of your live events as a post so community members who weren’t able to join can benefit from the key takeaways. 

When it comes to gathering your community online, the possibilities are endless, so it may be hard to know where to start. Here are a few ideas for events you can offer your Learning Community:

  • Welcome and meet & greet. Depending on how you’ve designed your community (public vs private), you may want to create a welcome event with the intention of orienting folks within the community and creating opportunities for members to meet one another. With public communities, you could offer a welcome event once every 4-8 weeks, depending on how quickly your community is growing, to create a more inclusive experience for new members.

  • Interactive workshop. An interactive workshop that focuses on a topic or theme that’s relevant to your members is not only an effective way to engage existing members, but also potential members you’re hoping to attract. Workshops tend to be much more hands-on than webinars, so members are more likely to show up live and know that they’ll walk away having learned and/or created something.

  • Q&A or AMA. Whether you’ve got an upcoming premium experience you’re offering your community or you simply want to create space for your community to bring their most pressing questions to you, Q&A and ‘ask me anything’ events are a great way to catalyze discussions, receive feedback, and learn more about your members’ greatest needs, challenges, and goals.

  • Invite special guests. Including special guests in live events can create excitement within your Learning Community and help expand your reach to other networks. Every guest will bring their own unique insights and experiences, which can help with retaining members in your Learning Community who are seeking new people and perspectives to learn and grow.

Depending on how your community is designed, we recommend testing out different strategies with free, paid, and discounted events. With Disco’s community reporting, you can easily track event registration, attendance, and the use of discount codes. You can also enable automated feedback as part of your event and have members automatically fill out a short feedback survey at the end of each event. The data and insights from feedback forms can inform your approach to community engagement and spark ideas for future events. Feedback forms are also a great way to let members know that you care about their experience and that you’re open to their suggestions. 

As Alen Faljic, Founder of d.MBA shares, “Care is something that changes the way you approach the whole learning experience.” Creating a culture of care is what helped d.MBA build a world class academy for designers.

Create Posts in Feeds to Spark and Encourage Asynchronous Discussions 

Caring for your Learning Community doesn’t have to start and end with events, in fact, much of the meaningful connection that gets cultivated in online learning communities happens asynchronously, through group discussion and one-on-one chats. 

With feeds, channels, comments and chat, you have the ability to encourage asynchronous engagement between live events to create even more value for members. Knowing how important it is for members to continue feeling engaged and supported outside of live events, we designed features to help you stay connected with your members, and help your members stay connected with each other:

Feeds

We created feeds (located in the left navigation of your community dashboard) to help you stay connected to your members. We recommend creating posts to remind members about upcoming events, introduce and celebrate members, and provide general information and updates. Likes and comments are also enabled on posts, which allow for communication between you and your members, as well as peer-to-peer discussions.

Chat

Direct messaging allows members to reach out privately to other members. This line of communication not only helps members feel more connected to one another, but can spark collaboration and friendship. When members feel like they’ve created meaningful relationships with other members in their Learning Community, they may feel a deeper sense of belonging, and as such participate in more events and continue being part of the Learning Community.

Channels

While Disco integrates seamlessly with Slack, we created channels as an alternative to using external communication tools. If you'd rather keep your members on our platform, channels are a great way to keep members connected and engaged throughout in between live events. If you’re wondering which channels to include or start with, we recommend:

  • #general - Open to all members as the ‘central hub’ for communication. 

  • #introduce-yourself - A channel dedicated to member introductions (we recommend providing an easy to follow structure like: name, website, and a few fun questions)

  • #questions-support - A space for members to ask questions or ask for support 

  • #learn-grow - A channel dedicated to inspiring and insightful organizations, books, videos, articles, etc.

Asynchronous conversations continue the momentum in your Learning Community and create space for members to contribute to bringing the community to life. Be sure to regularly spark conversation or ask specific members to lead on catalyzing questions and conversations so there’s always a reason for members to come back to the community in between live events. 

Create Custom Pages and Offer Exclusive Evergreen Resources 

In addition to live events and asynchronous opportunities for connection and discussion, offering members access to exclusive content helps create more value for existing members as well as for those who are considering joining your Learning Community. 

With Disco, you can easily add evergreen resources and custom pages to your Learning Community. Evergreen resources live in the left navigation of your community dashboard and include a rich text editor that enables you to share images, videos, downloadable attachments, embedded links, and much more. Resources can include guides, templates, learning content, or anything you feel members would find valuable. 

Custom pages, with a rich text editor that allows you to add everything from text to images to embedded links, and custom apps that integrate with Notion, Airtable, Typeform, and much more, enable you to offer a variety of content and engage your members in ways that enhance their experience. Here are a few examples of valuable freebie content you can offer members through evergreen resources and custom pages: 

  • A community agreements and ‘how to’ page to help members orient themselves in the learning community and understand the principles of engagement

  • Educational checklist articles and comprehensive guides

  • Relevant case studies to inspire and support their growth

  • Links to practical videos and articles with valuable takeaways

  • Templates and frameworks to support them as they build their own businesses, products, brands, services, courses etc.

  • Links to exclusive masterclasses and interviews

  • Q&A and FAQ pages to answer Members’ most pressing questions

  • Gated content like videos, articles, and other resources members would find helpful

  • And more!

To engage and retain your members long-term, we recommend updating and adding new evergreen resources every so often to keep the conversations alive and relevant. Once you’ve engaged your Learning Community through events, posts, and discussions, you may also learn more about their curiosities, needs, challenges, and goals while gaining insight into the types of content you can curate for them. 

Offer a Variety of Transformative Learning Experiences to Help Members Connect and Grow 

The vision for Disco has always been to empower founders and operators of academies, bootcamps, and online education businesses—what we call ‘modern schools’—to build and deliver successful, accessible, and community-powered learning experiences. As you build and grow your Learning Community on Disco, you may want to offer more in-depth learning experiences to continue supporting members in achieving their personal and professional goals, in addition to community events, resources, and asynchronous discussions. 

While events and asynchronous discussions can be highly engaging, we believe that people have the most transformative experiences when they have the opportunity to go through an intentionally-designed learning journey either on their own or with a supportive group.

If you’ve been engaging your members regularly, whether through an email newsletter, a Slack or Discord community, or through events, chances are that they are ready and looking for more: deeper connections, more hands-on learning experiences, and opportunities to learn from their peers. 

No matter the size of your Learning Community, once you’ve built trust with your members, you have the opportunity to monetize your community by offering a variety of highly-valuable learning experiences to your members. With Disco’s easy-to-use and customizable experience templates you can build learning experiences that include events, a curriculum (with lessons and assignments), feeds, channels, member progress reports, evergreen resources, and so much more.

Each template comes with its own unique set of apps and customizable settings to help you get started and focus on what matters most: helping your members achieve their goals through transformative learning experiences. Here are the templated learning experiences that you can select and customize:

Each of these learning experiences is a way to gather and grow your community. If you have an idea for a course, start with a Self-Paced Course to test out your content with your members. If you’re still exploring, an Event Series would be a great way to engage members and learn more about what type of content resonates with them. Evergreen and time bound Cohort-Based Courses tend to be a more time intensive learning journey for you and your members, we recommend starting with a smaller group and growing in size or number of cohorts as your capacity expands. Alumni Spaces are a fantastic way to engage members after they’ve gone through a shared learning experience together, and Masterminds are perfect for folks who really want to learn from their peers.

There’s no right place to start, only the place that’s most aligned with your mission, capacity, and goals. For more inspiration on building learning communities and learning experiences, visit our blog to learn from some of the top minds in learning.

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December 14, 2021 @ 3PM EST

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