A good business needs to maximize the use of every tool in its arsenal. However, one major tool often goes underappreciated: the creation and reinforcement of learning communities. Communities built from organizations with a learning culture can be a powerful driving force for change and improvement, 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 goals and objectives.
Building a Learning Community
In order to understand the benefits 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.
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, 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 personalize.
Like all worthwhile endeavors, having a plan is essential for success. Before you begin, define the community’s purpose. Create a goals-based plan of action that you want 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 goals and objectives for your employees. Knowing what you want to accomplish helps set a direction to reach the goals.
After you develop your overall objective, discuss logistics. How often will the group meet? Will it meet in person or via social media? How will the group function? Most importantly, who will be the learning community’s leader or mediator? Answering these questions helps the learning community avoid communication breakdowns that can derail a meeting.
By setting these guidelines, the learning community begins to understand how to communicate within the group. Answering these questions will also create an environment of respect and collaboration that emphasizes cooperation over competition.
A community doesn’t work without people, and the people who make up the learning community dictate how effective the group will be. Building relationships among group members is crucial to their ability to work together.
A community doesn’t work without people, and the people who make up the learning community dictate how effective the group will be.
First of all, everyone must introduce themselves and emphasize what they bring to the meetings and hope to get out of them. Offer a list of icebreaker activities once you assemble your community. Starting everyone off on the right foot will help you understand exactly who makes up the community and what they bring to the group dynamic. This will also help the community leaders understand what areas of the group dynamic need reinforcement.
Once the community knows one another, the group should establish a leader to represent them. You can appoint the leader, but the process tends to work better when the group agrees on their leader. It’s the leader’s responsibility to understand the group’s functions and goals, while also ensuring tasks get accomplished and meetings stay on track. A group leader ensures the community’s goals are met in a way that best fits their learning community.
After organizing the group and choosing a leader, then you can personalize. Each learning community is unique, not only because of its goals and its members. Each person brings different learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses, 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 everyone collaborates and builds 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 personalize 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 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; however, it doesn’t stop there. The community members can apply what they learn 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 when teachers applied this concept in their classroom they had amazing results. Students began to have more motivation to work and higher performance on tests. This culminated in a group of students with 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 critical and comforting environment. The community has to be critical enough to grow and develop, but caring enough to ensure that no one shuts down. To maximize 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 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.
Think about how a learning community can benefit your business and team. Through the process, you’ll discover ways to help your employees become more collaborative and productive.