How to Build a Learning Community
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The steps new founders of learning communities must take in order to build flourishing learning communities and begin generating revenue
- Why it’s important to determine your “why” and set goals for your learning community members in order to identify your target market and start building your membership
- How to select a platform with all the bells and whistles necessary to support your community today, tomorrow, and years from now
- How to stoke the flames of engagement so your members are constantly conversing and collaborating
- Different types of transformative learning experiences you can (and should) offer your membership
- How to create promotional content and marketing materials to build trust and spark interest
- How to keep former, current, and new learners engaged with fresh content and experiences so they remain in the fold as paying members
Every day, new online learning communities are bursting onto the scene.
Their founders are hungry for a piece of what will be a trillion dollar industry by 2030, but they share similar interests in the future of learning and its mission to unlock affordable access to all kinds of education.
Redefining the learning industry means leveraging new ideas and strategies. Participants should share common goals and common interests, where founders should focus solely on connecting people. Rather than teaching basic knowledge, these groups instill a habit of habitual learning. Putting a community of learners together and cultivating different groups within the body increases fundamental understanding of the skills being learned.
But building a learning community isn’t as easy as putting people together in a virtual (or real-life) environment and teaching from a textbook, the way traditional education has done for years. These systems are more complex, and founders of vibrant learning communities follow similar formulas to achieve their success.
So what are the steps one needs to take in order to build a learning community? We’ve identified six must-dos for any budding founder, but let’s first recap on what these special groups are and how they’re turning traditional education on its head.
We took insights from some of the world’s most strategic founders of learning communities and compiled them in one article. Read it here.
What is a learning community?
A learning community is a shared learning experience where students come together in an environment to learn alongside one another and achieve a common goal or convene on their similar interests. That goal can be to upskill or reskill in their career, learn an entirely new skill all together, or develop positive habits or hobbies. Course creators become experienced educators by fostering their online learning community and providing all the tools necessary for student success.
Dive deeper on all things learning community, including how they work and why they’re so beneficial to all involved by clicking here.
Online learning communities are different from your typical community because of that learning component. By building curriculum and distributing it through synchronous courses, asynchronous courses, and live or pre-recorded events, members can learn through a number of different methods and do so alongside kindred students.
Depending on the course design, online learners will work through course content as a part of a larger group and in smaller groups with other learners for more intimate participation.
The learning industry is set to be one of the biggest success stories this decade. Coming out of a global pandemic and heading into economic recession, people are looking to bolster their skill sets and not rely on higher education to do so.
Where do learning communities take place?
These programs can take place in-person in a classroom or online, but virtual learning has exploded as of the last few years and continues to grow as a major subset of the broader learning industry.
To host your online community and supplemental online course, a robust learning management system is the best way to bolster communication within your group and cultivate personal and professional development.
Even though online communities are distributed across time zones and potentially across international borders, the format is more conducive to sharing ideas, facilitating collaboration in new ways, and working with other students from different backgrounds, races, and beliefs.
The benefits of building a learning community
Building a learning community and supplemental learning experiences offers both financial and cultural benefits to founders.
The Financial Incentives
A trillion dollar valuation in the learning industry means there is a ton of cash being pumped into the sector. There are eager learners out there, and they want to invest time and money into learning communities and founders they believe in.
As such, revenue is a huge incentive for founders to build these programs. For some, it’s a means of supplementing their income. For others, it’s a means of entirely replacing it. Unlike in higher education, founders get to control both the cost to community entry and the methods of payment. This opens up accessibility to all kinds of students, therefore expanding possible revenue streams.
The Cultural Incentives
More importantly, founders of learning communities have a renewed sense of purpose; being able to share their expertise with a worldwide audience and control the creation, delivery, and optimization of their own curriculum is incredibly empowering.
It’s even more empowering to unlock access — affordable access, at that — to learning opportunities around the globe. Underrepresented, marginalized communities are often the last ones to experience both formal and informal education, and giving people a chance to change their lives and make a difference to those around them is very rewarding.
Building community to promote learning as a lifelong habit rather than an archaic practice is a huge point for founders.
There's no school board; no test scores students have to meet. Founders of social learning groups have a blank slate on which to create transformative experiences on. You get to own your culture top to bottom and curate a community to reflect the world you want to see around you.
But how do you go about doing that? We’re outlining six steps that experts in the industry have taken to achieve wild success and move the learning industry forward in meaningful ways.
6 steps to building a vibrant learning community
First, determine the purpose of your learning community and identify your target audience
Before anything else, determine your “why:”
- What is your learning community all about?
- What do you hope your members will experience?
- What goal should they achieve?
- What resources and content will you provide them in order to help them achieve said goal?
- Is your community designed to be more broad and invite in different kinds of people, or is there a specific niche you’re wanting to zero in on?
Answering these questions will help you both define your mission and better depict what your ideal member looks like so you know who they are and where to find them when it comes time to start marketing.
Next, find a platform that supports both your growing community and their learning enrichment
As the number of learning communities continues to grow rapidly, so does the number of platforms designed to host these environments and their supplemental educational experiences, like courses and events.
With so many options on the market, it can feel overwhelming to decide which is right for your program. We put together some handy guides to help you nail that choice, but the right platform should support your community in a number of ways:
- By allowing integrations with key products and tools to seamlessly host members and the experiences they’re offered
- By making marketing, operational, and administrative functions easier with a simple user experience
- By facilitating student enrichment with progress reporting and analytics, allowing you to see the holistic health of your larger community and members within it
- By providing everything necessary to host your online courses, whether they're synchronous or asynchronous
- By encouraging members to participate through different messaging styles like channels, posts, and feeds (more on that later)
Then, scale learning community membership with tactical marketing efforts (like free trials)
While potential members may love the idea of your community and feel inspired to join, you can solidify their decision by building trust and showcasing value.
One expert-backed tip for achieving this is offering a free trial to one of your learning experiences, like a live event or a lesson within any curriculum you’ve designed. This will give prospective students a chance to get familiar with the format of the community and the overall objectives before they fully commit.
You can also distribute dedicated downloadable content or personalized video walkthroughs of your community to give a lens into what it’s like to be a member and showcase what sets your environment apart.
This content can be delivered via your social presence, in a blog post, or through other content distribution strategies, but the most important thing is that potential students have a practical example of what your online community looks like and how students work within it.
Next, encourage collaboration and conversation within your community and foster better engagement
When you bring like-minded learners together to undergo a transformative learning experience, collaboration and conversation will naturally happen. But there are still ways you can stoke the engagement fires and get folks conversing in the different spaces you’ve provided.
If you’re using a platform to host your learning community, ensure that it’s branded in some way so the environment feels customized and unique to only your members.
Next, set up different channels, posts, and feeds that cover different topics or purposes so members know where and when to go for specific use cases. You might have a channel for water cooler talk, whereas smaller feeds are dedicated to individual cohorts or learning topics.
Finally, it is especially important for communities to create different experiences like cohort-based courses, self-paced courses, or event series so the learning component of these programs is deeper, richer, and more well-rounded.
Let’s talk about what those look like and how to support their creation, distribution, and optimization.
After that, build content and curriculum to supplement deeper learning – then get it into your member's hands
Without supplying opportunities and content for learning, your learning community becomes just another corner of the web without a purpose. As a founder, you have complete control over what that curriculum looks like and how it’s distributed amongst your members.
It can be helpful to first consider the types of experiences you want to deliver:
Event series can be pulled off for your entire community or larger subsets within it, but they don’t involve more intimate collaboration amongst students.
However, hosting frequent live events gives you an opportunity to re-engage alumni members and those who have actively participated in the community and want to get more involved. Allowing these students to host an event deepens their learning experience by allowing them to teach, and it gives other members exposure to new styles of teaching and new people.
Asynchronous or self-paced courses
The self-paced sector of learning is the fastest growing in the industry because it’s a flexible, often more affordable option for a larger audience of your learning community.
Self-paced courses also tend to be more hands-off from an instructional standpoint and require less interaction with founders or teachers. Because they’re self-paced, learners tend to progress at different speeds and levels, but there are still ways to facilitate more community-based learning.
Founders can create spaces within their environment for asynchronous students to share ideas, thoughts, and questions. They can also create weekly check-ins for students to share their thoughts more formally, or designate “cohorts” of members who will work through the curriculum at a similar pace. This way, the community aspect isn’t lost, but the accessibility and flexibility of self-paced learning is still within reach.
Synchronous or cohort-based courses
On the other hand, synchronous or cohort-based courses are more formalized and adhere to a stricter schedule. They may include live lecture times that need to be joined or require attendance at a number of live events.
More so than their async counterparts, cohort-based courses inherently put community at the center of their experience. A smaller cohort creates a more intimate learning experience for the members within them, and those students connect on a deeper level not only with one another, but with the material they’re mastering.
Creating at least one of these options initially when building your learning community gives you a foundation to stand on and allows you to gather and implement feedback for future iterations.
Finally, nurture current and past members with additional learning experiences to keep them in the fold
Starting with one type of content or one learning experience is a great way to bring new members into the fold, but it’s important to routinely update that content or add to the options for members to keep things fresh and topical.
Building a learning community isn’t a short-term solution; you shouldn’t start this venture if you intend for it to be finite. These communities are meant to stand the test of time, and that’s made possible by adding new content and new members to enjoy it.
When your students have finished working through the online learning curriculum that’s available, they’ll be eager for more ways to learn and engage.
You’ll keep current students happy and have far more to offer prospective students when they come onboard, and you’ll be able to create more opportunities for learning enrichment — and, as a result, more opportunities for revenue generation.
It goes without saying: Happy members tell friends and family who become new happy members, and the cycle continues.
Building a learning community is a complex process; it’s not intuitive to even the best and brightest founders (many of whom we’ve been able to interview over the years, which you can read here), but following models of success and being open to adaptation are two key ways to ensure success for you and the students you’re supporting.
Build your budding learning community on Disco
We’re passionate about making the future of learning accessible to both those who want to teach and learn. The Disco platform was designed to help founders build, grow, scale, and monetize your learning community and turn it into a flourishing business, and we’ve made it as affordable as possible, regardless of what size your community is today, tomorrow, and years down the line.
Learn more about our pricing plans and what’s included at each tier here.
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.