5 Learning Community Case Studies to Inspire You
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why we’re in the midst of learning’s gold rush — and what that means for both those who seek out learning communities and those who build them
- What makes community-based learning so fruitful for everyone involved
- How five communities are creating the most impactful learning experiences for global audiences
The gold rush of learning is happening as we speak. There has never been a better time to create a professional learning community or participate in one, and the benefits of both ventures continue to grow as the learning industry becomes more prosperous.
By 2030, experts say the learning industry will be worth $1 trillion, and the rapid expansion of community-based learning is one of the biggest contributors to that valuation.
All around the world, experienced educators and budding entrepreneurs alike are founding spaces where people can learn, engage, share knowledge, and connect with others who are working towards common goals.
Founders of professional learning communities share their own array of common goals like making learning more accessible, affordable, and applicable to our real lives and careers. We’ve had a chance to sit down with a number of these founders and learn how they’re designing their learning experiences and communities in order to make these goals a reality.
But first — let’s refresh on what learning communities are and why they’re so impactful to both those who create them and those who participate in them.
This deep dive into what a learning community is will be especially helpful to anyone new to the idea of community-based learning and its greater global impact.
A refresher on learning communities and why they’re so unique
What is a learning community?
Learning communities are curated spaces that bring individuals together to learn a specific skill or curriculum and achieve shared goals. Whether professional learning or personal learning, the goal of these spaces is to cultivate meaningful collaboration and focus on ongoing development of skills.
Unlike traditional education, there’s a particular focus for learners to master rather than a range of subjects. Curriculum development is rooted in what's going to help each learner achieve a particular outcome through collective learning and supportive leadership.
Professional learning communities versus traditional learning communities
While emerging schools and reculturing schools are starting to adopt many of the rhetoric from professional learning communities, there's a fundamental shift that needs to happen at the traditional school level.
For one, there should be just as much of a focus on staff development as there is on effective professional development for students. Teacher collaboration on curriculum development can help ensure that every student is having an enriching, well-rounded experience. Just as collaboration is vital to student achievement, staff need to form community cultures of their own.
Virtual learning versus in-person learning
Learning communities are also different from your typical classroom because most of them take place virtually. These online learning communities allow membership to be distributed at a global scale so those within them can learn alongside people from different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds to make the learning experience richer, deeper, and more tolerant.
More ways to learn
Online learning communities also present the ability to create multiple types of learning experiences. You’re not limited to the typical teacher-student-lecture format; rather, founders and teachers of learning communities have the option to create self-paced courses, cohort-based courses, event series, and more. By creating a wealth of different learning experiences members can opt into, you’re giving them the freedom to learn on their terms.
Many of these learning organizations wind up becoming professional learning communities because they enact educational change by focusing on professional development. School reform isn't necessarily the end goal for these teachers and founders, but their methodology involves instructional practice and effective professional development rather than teaching from an outdated theoretical framework with no hands-on application.
Why communal-based learning works
Shared accountability is one of the biggest benefits to learning in an online community setting. Being involved in a learning community feels a lot like being a part of a team; every member’s presence is necessary to helping the greater good achieve for overall student achievement.
Because each member brings their own unique set of ideas and experience, their attendance in these learning experiences and participation within community channels and feeds creates a well-rounded experience for everyone involved.
That exposure to different ways of life and ways of thinking encourages a more engaging and enlightening exchange of ideas and, as a result, members of learning communities become better leaders, teammates, and people.
Founding learning environments is a lot like creating a company from the ground up, but with nuances that are unique to the learning industry. Learn how to build a sustainable professional learning community with our handy guide.
The benefits of founding a learning community
Creating an online learning community creates both financial and cultural benefits for founders. What’s neat about the network of founders in today’s industry is they come from all different backgrounds and experiences; some are experienced educators who noticed the gaps in traditional learning and want to make education more impactful. Others are professional learning entrepreneurs looking to expand into new revenue streams. Whatever the reason for starting one may be, founders of these groups are finding these ventures to be very, very lucrative.
Even more profound than the financial benefits are the cultural benefits. Founders of learning communities today have a massive impact on the world tomorrow; practical, skills-based learning in a communal setting is the future of learning.
Those creating professional learning communities have a chance to share their expertise and supplemental curriculum with a global audience. They're developing learning community cultures and allowing people the freedom to develop habitual learning skills on their own terms and in their own way.
Professional learning is education without the constraints of test scores and grading systems, with a specific focus on mastery of material rather than “passing” or “failing”.
It doesn't hurt that years of educational research has proven collaborative learning community cultures to be far, far more effective than typical learning environments like K-12 classrooms. Findings reveal that professional learning communities help students gain information and, in lesser degrees, fall out of practice with professional learning because of the shared and supportive leadership that founders and their teams provide.
You could become the next great founder of a professional learning community. We've seen it done a dozen times over.
At Disco, we’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of founders forging their own unique paths in the world of distributed, community-based learning. These five communities are especially unique in that they’re leveraging the Disco platform to bring these experiences to life and change the game for their members.
5 learning communities revolutionizing the future of education
A startup incubator out of York University, YSpace is helping over 500 budding startups find their niche in their market, discover an audience, and build a MVP. They’re focused on food and beverage ventures as well as technology ones but, more importantly, YSpace gives life to Black and women-led ventures as a means of democratizing entrepreneurship for traditionally underrepresented communities.
“DEI is a benchmark and a core of our programming rather than an additional ‘We need to do this,’” says Nafis Ahmed, Entrepreneurship Manager. “We’re changing the world by being the platform that empowers people to change the world.”
This benchmark goes beyond professional development for marginalized peoples; it's about creating well being at scale for communities. Making entrepreneurship a community that is accessible to all is one way YSpace is helping people who wouldn’t have otherwise had access to it create generational wealth and privilege.
By keeping successful alumni in the fold, YSpace has been able to create a lineage of innovation through community-building by keeping current and former members engaged through event invites, professional collaboration, and mentorship opportunities.
Top talent finds a home to accelerate their businesses, upskill in their careers, and find like-minded professionals to collaborate with at On Deck.
The community now boasts thousands of members with a combined value of $9B across founders who have leveraged the community and its resources to scale.
On Deck also offers a four-week no code course (amongst others) designed to help new business founders gain information on how to navigate the landscape, source tools, and begin building their business or bringing their ideas to life in a leadership capacity.
Community is fundamental to On Deck’s success; ensuring members have some topic, idea, or question to engage with at least every five minutes makes the community more lively and vibrant.
The On Deck team also focuses specifically on course design, rather than the outcome or the time it might take to achieve that outcome. “Value is not achieved in terms of time, value is achieved based on you helping people achieve the outcomes and goals that they’re hoping for,” says Eliot Gategno, former Head of Education.
They make each learning experience unique and rich and allow members to pick and choose which experiences they engage in, rather than locking members into one specific course. This gives members the freedom to learn how and when they want to learn, and unlocks affordable access to the curriculum each member uniquely needs.
One of the biggest responsibilities all founders of learning communities share is unlocking accessible, applicable education. allWomen is achieving that at a global scale for women who want to find long, lucrative careers in the tech industry.
From data science to UX design to product management, allWomen is creating hands-on coursework to train the next generation of women in tech. Many of their courses are self-paced, which gives participants the freedom to learn on their own terms. “These asynchronous courses allow us to be more accessible,” says founder Laura Fernández Giménez. More women can have access to our courses and the tech skills they need to thrive.”
Part of shouldering that responsibility to create accessibility is giving learners the tools they need to succeed and allowing them to thrive on their own. Online learning gives people the flexibility to learn on their own, but adds community as a touchpoint of accountability.
Women go traditionally underrepresented in tech, but as more and more companies are being built and more non-technical companies seek out talent to make their products, goods, or services more digital-friendly, there’s more of a need than ever for a woman’s voice and expertise. allWomen continues to be the leading community for women in tech, boasting over 30,000 members across the globe.
We encourage you to read these other examples of different learning community types to see how different industries and sectors are leveraging communal education spaces.
Did you know the battery industry poses one of the biggest opportunities for employment in Europe? Founder of BatteryMBA Simon Engelke and Chief of Staff Amandine Bressand are filling the very shallow talent pool with upskilled, trained battery professionals.
One of the greatest opportunities founders of learning communities have is to carve out a niche and provide training folks can’t find anywhere else. There’s a need to upskill over 800,000 battery professionals by 2030, and BatteryMBA has cornered the market on creating technical and business training as it relates to batteries.
"When we started, we had an even smaller niche in mind like PhDs, similar to myself, in the battery sector. Then we were amazed at how this niche grew. Now, we have people from investment firms and different sectors in the program and sometimes, you realize your niche was quite much bigger than you thought it might even be," says Simon.
This training is accredited, so hiring managers can feel especially confident in a candidate’s new skillset.
Riches are in the niches, a phrase another great learning community founder Dan Martell coined, and it’s true — building a learning community gives new founders a chance to create coursework and curriculum about a certain topic or career path that doesn’t yet exist and hone in on a very specific audience.
Designers know Dribbble. A bustling community with thousands of members, Dribbble is a leading platform for anyone in the graphic, user experience, or product design spaces. The community is over a decade old, using events, conferences, and meet-ups to foster a global network.
That was, at least, until the pandemic.
Dribbble then quickly pivoted to fostering more virtual community engagement, realizing quickly that offering learning experiences could be a great way to connect designers and help them upskill during a time of uncertainty. This is how Dribbble’s Product Design Course came to be.
In 16 weeks, Dribbble takes students from complete beginners to hireable product designers. It’s asynchronous and done at each member’s own pace, fitting seamlessly into their work and personal schedules.
This Product Design Course is an example of how storied, established businesses can have a stake in the growing learning industry. The Dribbble brand already holds a ton of legitimacy, so prospective members and hiring managers alike can trust that the coursework is true to the industry. Creating more intimate learning communities within larger, existing communities gives members a place to land and something tangible to work towards. This course also opens a new revenue stream for Dribbble, generating income through admissions and, eventually, additional offerings.
Not only do these five case studies show the untapped potential of learning communities, they share another important trait — they’re all building their memberships on Disco. We’re the all-in-one platform to build, operate, scale, and monetize every aspect of your learning community.
The best learning communities build on Disco
Learning and community go hand in hand, and your growing venture deserves a platform that brings both to life. This is why we created Disco — to empower existing and prospective founders to bridge the gap between learning and community, making them one, powerful entity to change education forever.
We’re so confident in our platform, we’re offering you 14 days free to play around on our platform; dip your toes in, see what sets us apart from other solutions on the market then, when you’re ready, book an expert demo with one of our team members so we can show you how to design an environment that’s true to only you and the vibrant community you’re building.