Friday, 25 March 2011


In just 3 weeks, Jane Hart’s ( new Yammer based Social Learning Community ( has exploded globally to over 500 members.

This extraordinary growth has not happened by accident.  Many such communities (Learning Communities, Communities of Practice etc) launch and, far from achieving spectacular expansion, wither, and many die for lack of participation. This blog is an attempt to “capture” the moment as experienced by members of the community themselves (thanks to all who have contributed) and to draw out some lessons and principles that will enable the successful launch to be replicated elsewhere.

So what are the driving principles?

Ø  The opportunity has been provided by someone well known and trusted as an expert who is welcoming and helpful to people at all levels of SoMe experience
Ø  Initial respondents to the invitation were people who
o   Face common challenges, speak a common language and many of whom had plenty of practice sharing and communicating in this way.”
o   Are eager to learn from one another and share what they have done
o   Saw the community as a natural extension to their existing work and experience
o   Had a shared sense of purpose
o   Experienced skilled moderation
§  Personal welcome to every member on joining
§  Encouragement to share
§  Providing hints and tips to overcome technical issues
§  Huge energy to make people feel at home
§  Few rules to enable the community to self-moderate
§  Encouragement through message and example to share and give as well as take
Ø  Rapid achievement of a critical mass of members to enable the community to be self-sustaining
Ø  Use of a platform that is beyond the cryptic and provides some organisation (threads) for the information. It provides a space for in-depth discussion
Ø  Excitement of members shown, among other ways, by inviting a wider network to join.

Additionally there is much comment in the feedback that this initiative hit the spot – an idea whose time had come – whether the topic, the platform or the perception that is rapidly spreading about the fundamental change that SoMe is making to all our lives, not just Social Learning

So what are the contrasts from my other experiences of being asked to join communities in the last few months?  All the others have omitted one or more of the principles outlined above – lack of proactive and energetic moderation being the common theme.

While the Social space is very open my own conclusion is that for a community to succeed it needs both an energetic locus and enough of a framework to entice people in, make them feel welcome, help them to find their way around and to apply the gentlest of steers to the direction of the conversation to keep it aligned to the community’s purpose.

I’ve learned a lot from gathering this data.  I hope my analysis helps others to initiate successful communities.  I would love to hear of your experiences in doing so.

In the meantime I will be collecting data to see how the Social Learning Community embeds and grows as a part of our working lives.  In particular I will be interested to see if the “lurking” membership becomes more involved in the community life.

Finally my thanks to Jane Hart for her support in getting me started on Yammer, and for allowing me access to the community’s metrics to make this analysis possible


  1. This is GREAT! I hope social learning continues to grow and expand, so that the hearts and minds of students and teachers alike can be enriched by the insights and imaginations of others.

  2. Congratulations, Nic, excellent analysis and write-up.

    "CoP: It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991)

    This type of learning practice has existed for as long as people have been learning and sharing their experiences through storytelling." via Wikipedia

    Social learners should embrace & nurture the narrative.

  3. Thanks Nic. A simple echo of the lads above, really. As a second-wave joiner, it seems that your analysis is indeed germane. (Backed up by my successful experience at one ning, and faltering fruitfulness in several others.) THE difference is energetic and creative moderation. Another difference is connection to my deep interests. I won't hang a about a dilettante network, because I'll soon become interested in some other gaudy toy and flit to it. But if the community is engaging and exploring issues close to my core, I'll stay: learning, sharing and growing. (And I'd probably stay at such a group, dynamo moderator or not.)

  4. Ian. Thanks for this - I enjoy your lead about how involvement maintains itself. I started a question on the Social Learning Community to try to pick up comments about the on-going sustainability of successful start-ups. A question in my mind has been the amount of effort the moderator has to put in to the community on an on-going basis. One such as the SLC is growing fast still and is huge in numbers, content and energy. You seem to be saying that relevance and context overtake energy and emotion in keeping you there. A bit like a life-long marriage's evolution??

  5. Paul Thanks. I will be fascinated to see how the thread you have started on the Social Learning Community on the worthwhileness of stories develops. If context is King and the key to engagement then there needs to be relevance to the story in order to create interest and community around the story

  6. Thank you Nic! Synthetic, sharp and accurate. Being so inductive, this is indeed very helpful.

  7. I agree with your observations and I think in addition that there has been a lot of effort by Jane Hart in the beginning to facilitate, welcome etc..

  8. I am delighted to stumble onto this site. For some years, I have been thinking about how a robust and dynamic online learning community could help people get the education they need to live better lives. My focus has been on a knowledge portal with email forums and links to ample free and dirt cheap resources plus peer mentoring. I woke up the other night and realized that social media must play a much more prominent role, perhaps even a dominant one. My ultimate goal is to transform education by offering all the education anyone can use at a cost the poorest man on earth can afford. I am a semi-retired university professor and chancellor of a large university. I know the current system of higher education can't support what is needed to save civilization. I am also convinced that everything needed to educate everyone who really wants to learn is easily at hand. All that is missing are vision, courage, and will. Maybe faith needs to be thrown in there too.

    Mark Draper, Ph.D.

  9. Hello Mark. What a great discovery for you! And what a deep and inspiring vision you have for getting education to everyone who can take advantage of it. I realised a while ago what contribution the all-enveloping spread of the social media could make - a realisation that was only enhanced after e-Learning Africa in Dar-es-Salaam a few weeks ago. The initiatives showcased there in the use of mobile technology demonstrated that the realisation of the vision we share has some sparks being created. You might like to look also at the incredible achievements of the African Virtual University ( as further inspiration.

  10. Well, mark :) took me 5 minutes to read and 30 to actually understand stuff lol, you may wanna take it ez and chilax a bit check this out coolest zombies games site on the web have some fun lol