The Ultimate Guide to Learning Communities
In this article, you'll learn:
- How learning communities are turning the traditional education process on its head — and how the different components of learning communities work together to create one transformative experience
- Why it's meaningful to not only participate in a learning community, but to found one
- Examples of learning communities to show that success comes in all sizes, scales, and topics
For years — decades, even — our traditional education system has been broken. Where higher education has become less aspirational and more transactional, virtual learning communities are filling our learning voids and creating life-changing experiences.
The number of learning communities is growing by the day, backed by an industry that’s set to be one of the biggest success stories of this decade.
But what do these environments look like, and why do they have a greater impact on both those who found them and those who join them? Let’s break down everything all things learning communities: what their key goals are, how to build one, and what they look like:
What is a learning community?
Learning communities are spaces where groups of curated individuals work towards a shared goal. Whether that goal is to learn a new skill, advance a career, or develop positive habits, learning communities facilitate connection, participation, and inspiration between members.
Unlike traditional learning, shared learning is focused on more integrative and holistic methods of teaching that aren’t tethered to a grading system or other standardized measures of success.
What should the environment look like?
Learning communities can happen in-person on a campus or in an office setting or online, but both the COVID pandemic and a more rapid adoption of digital technology over time has made virtual learning more approachable and accessible to a global audience.
The virtual format is also far more conducive for catering to different groups within most learning communities and delivering resources more easily. It also helps members share ideas and work closely, despite being distributed.
What are the different components of a learning community?
Creating learning communities involves having a learning component and a community component. While these two components coexist in order to create positive outcomes, each component involves a unique set of features that make them up.
The "Learning" Component
A learning community is different from a regular online environment, thread, or forum because it involves a specific learning component. To achieve success, curriculum is created and distributed through a number of learning experiences, whether it be through courses (synchronous or asynchronous), event series, or a combination of different experiences.
Teachers get to call the shots
In addition to the curriculum itself, each learning community uses their own unique pedagogy to deliver that information and help members in the community work through material. They aren’t bound to the constraints of traditional education; there are no standardized tests or specific grades needed to pass. The founder of every learning community gets to determine what success looks like and what the goal for each member should be once they’ve completed it.
Different teaching practices
But who teaches these programs? Most often, the founder of the learning community itself takes on the creation, implementation, and distribution of curriculum, but larger communities that run multiple cohorts per year or even per month might have an instructional staff or teachers that manage the classroom and the community as they learn.
The "Community" Component
Community is the more operative word in the phrase learning community, because we know now, through data and research, that learning is so much more impactful when there’s a community rallied around it.
Admitting new community members
In order for a learning community to thrive, the community programs needs to be nurtured. This starts with admissions to the learning community itself: Is it open to the public? Open to only those accepted?
Founders of learning communities have the option to curate their community as much or as little as they want, depending on their end goal. Sometimes, it’s better to tailor the list a bit in order to facilitate really specific discussion amongst a specific group of people.
Rallying active participants
Whether online or in real life, learning communities need a place to gather, collaborate, and communicate. This is why virtual learning communities have become so wildly popular in the last few years —because tools like Disco, Slack, and other community platforms give learning communities a home. The conversation can continue 24/7, and people across the globe can access the same community in their own time zone.
Fostering student success by creating learning environments
Within that platform, communities need different areas to collaborate. They need community-wide channels as much as they need small group pockets and direct, 1:1 messaging with other members. Giving other students the opportunity to break off into groups for more intimate discussion only gives more emphasis to the learning process.
Maintaining the health and happiness of students
The health of your learning community is dictated solely on the health — rather, the progress — of your students and the environment they work in. It's a full job in itself to ensure your students are participating within the community itself, but also within any learning clusters you design, from courses to events to masterminds.
How does a learning community work?
Fundamentally, these communities work by bringing the two above-mentioned components — and everything that comes with them — together in one place, typically on a virtual platform that can manage both the learning and the community aspects. That way, founders can focus on facilitating conversation and connection through their coursework, events, lectures, and any other kind of program they offer.
But learning communities don’t just happen by chance. Naturally, you need people to form a community, so there’s marketing and recruiting that needs to happen in order to bring people into the fold. There are operational and administrative tasks that keep the community on track and keep members engaged. There’s regular maintenance that should take place, like feedback loops, in order to understand and implement any changes or updates.
Putting these systems in place before anything else will ensure your community is a well-oiled machine, so your focus can be on providing all of the wonderful impact learning communities have on the members within them.
What are the benefits of a learning community?
There are countless benefits to both learning in a community-based setting and teaching in one. With all of the learning communities popping up around the globe today and the solutions to support them, it’s easier than ever to join a learning community or found one of your own (or both!).
Why build a learning community
The Financial Incentive
For many new founders of learning communities, a primary goal is revenue. And trust us — the revenue is there. The learning industry is set to hit $1 trillion by 2030, and there’s a major cash infusion into alternative and virtual learning happening as we speak.
Founding a learning community gives you a chance to supplement or entirely replace your income because you have total control over how much you charge for entry to your learning community and supplemental learning experiences. It also gives you a chance to further develop your personal brand and build a network of like-minded folks around you.
The Cultural Incentive
Beyond the financial incentives, founders of learning communities have a chance to make a real difference. One of the biggest opportunities we have in building the future of learning is increasing access to learning and serving underrepresented communities. It’s a goal founders of learning communities share at a global scale, and being a part of that empowers you to change lives.
As a founder of a learning community, you dictate the culture. You give students the sense of purpose you know they need to succeed. You have the opportunity to change the life of every student who comes through your door — be it virtual or real — and introduce them to fellow students who are equally engaged and who are of equal yet different ability. You'll foster real-world application of skills that will translate into student success and, ultimately, help everyone in your community achieve the goal that you set them on the path towards.
It's incredibly rewarding. It goes beyond the impact that traditional educators have in the classroom, because founders of learning communities get to create learning environments for themselves and their unique expertise.
Why Join Community-based learning
Accountability is key
When learning is rooted in community, there’s a built-in system of accountability. Sharing experiences, ideas, and learnings ensures that everyone within the learning community is participating. Learning with people and for people makes members of learning communities better colleagues, leaders, and learners who are more open to new directions and new ways of thinking.
Deeper, richer student engagement
Studies have shown that learning in a community-based setting is much more impactful to mastery of material and significantly deepens understanding. The quality of learning is better and more enriching because it tends to be more practical — it’s skills-based and hands-on, rather than based in theory or text as it is in traditional learning. This style of learning keeps people more engaged and empowered.
Finally, community-based learning makes networking and connection-building a primary focus rather than an afterthought. Building connections with others in the community is equally — if not more — important to mastering curriculum and learning new skills. Those connections can last a lifetime and create life-changing experiences for those in your community.
What are examples of learning communities?
Remember — every learning community is different. Each has its own set of unique members, its own curriculum and lineup of learning experiences, and its own way of operating. These learning communities can be massive, supporting thousands and thousands of people, while others are tighter knit and designed to foster more intimate connection.
Some are designed to help people develop new professional skills, change careers, or start businesses such as:
- allWomen: While based in Barcelona, this team is creating affordable, global access to tech careers and everything women need to learn in order to pivot with a community of 30,000+.
- YSpace: This startup incubator based out of York University is working to democratize entrepreneurship for typically underrepresented communities, especially ventures founded by women and POC. They have over 500 ventures under their umbrella.
- Victory Lap: Brian Bar’s learning community helps reskill professionals to find prosperous careers in sales, and he’s helped over 1,200 folks do so since 2016.
- BatteryMBA: Did you know the battery industry boasts one of the largest demands for talent in the world? Now you do — and BatteryMBA’s tight-knit learning community is gearing to upskill 800,000 battery professionals in the next decade.
Others just want to give people a chance to learn something new and join a vibrant community of members interested in the same topics, like:
- ChairmanMe: Originally designed to give working women a place to share their experiences working in tech, the community now boasts over 10,000 members and offers a range of learning experiences, including weekly events, courses, and more.
- Write of Passage: Founder David Perrell believes writing is a skill fundamental to almost any professional role and anyone’s personal journey, so his learning community and supplemental writing course have a waitlist thousands of people long.
- Farnam Street: Yes, it’s possible to retain how you think and how you learn. Farnam Street founder Shane Parrish built a learning community to bring folks together who are interested in learning to do just that.
How can you start building a learning community?
Before launching your community and building curriculum, there are a few important questions to ask yourself:
- What am I going to teach? What niche am I hoping to fill?
- Who’s my ideal audience? Who needs to learn these skills? What marketing plan do I need to construct in order to reach them?
- What’s the end goal for those who join my learning community?
- What types of learning experiences can I offer now? In the future?
- What type of team or staff do I need to build and maintain a learning community?
- Will my learning experiences be offered synchronously or asynchronously? What tools and integrations do I need to support those experiences?
- Where can I host my community? What features do I need to facilitate their conversation and collaboration?
These are just a few of many considerations you’ll need to make in order to start building your learning community but, luckily, the right tool can take a lot of the operational load off of you and allow you to focus on building, operating, scaling, and monetizing a bustling learning community.
We’ve put together a number of guides that can help steer you in the right direction.
Disco: The platform for building founders of vibrant learning communities
Giving founders the time, money, and resources back to reinvest in their community rather than in administrative tasks is just one of the reasons we created Disco. The other? Learning and community are inherently connected. When brought together strategically, learning and community can change the world – for good.
We’ll let you try Disco free for 14 days so you can get your feet wet and see why it’s the platform for you and your community.