How To Create An Engaged Online Learning Community (2023)

January 6, 2023
 | by 
Abhinav Arora
Abhinav Arora
min read

How do you a create a peer-learning community for your online course? This article uncovers every step. Dive in!

How To Create An Engaged Online Learning Community (2023)
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What is a community and why does it matter?

Humans have always existed in groups or clusters from ancient times. The intrinsic desire of humans is to socialise and this is why we are social animals. We love to learn together, influence each other and talk to each other.

However, online learning is usually a lonely affair - which is why you need a community.

A community is when your students / customers or audience form connections amongst themselves. Usually on the internet, what happens with most content is the creator preaches and gets some instant feedback from his audience. This forms a 1-many connection between the creator and his audience. 

One to many connections are not sustainable in the long run simply because there’s no element of peer to peer interaction. The interest of the learners simply dies down if you fail to hook them for a few days and they switch to a new and shiny creator.

But what if the many people could have interactions amongst themselves. This does happen in the comments box at times, but what if it were more organised:

3 point checklist you need for a learning community
What if I tell you that you all have experienced this setting?

This dynamic is not new. This is how schools and colleges work. You remember your school or college for the company you kept. Sure, you’d have had a great remarkable teacher here and there. But it boils down to the classmates and alumni who keep you engaged and motivated. Your classroom is essentially a community.

Picture it this way. The teacher is like a mentor who is responsible for delivering the course content and solving a few critical doubts and queries.

The peers are the ones who are responsible for you to have active engagement in the class. You compete with your peers, share notes, hangout and have a lot of fun learning.

The community is the reason students complete the course.

CBCs saw an unprecedented 85% completion rates

With pandemic, the education industry was forced to solve for the motivation aspect online with online communities. Over time, there emerged a plethora of options for you to build and house your student community.

How do you go about building one?

Firstly, you need to know what piece of the puzzle you want your community to solve.

Is it going to be free or paid? And, why one not the other?

1) Free community

A free community acts as a front end to your course. This is where your students start trusting you, your knowledge and the vibe that you create. This is a try-before-you-buy model. It also helps to make some part of your curriculum available to the free community.

There’s a catch though. If you brand your free community as a try-before-you-buy option, there’s unlikely that you’ll see much organic traction.

Why? Their guards will be up - anytime you sense someone wants to sell you something, there is a natural push-back.

The famous quote which defines human psychology of buying things

- How do you bypass this guard?

By changing your mindset about the free community. You have to give before you can ask. And you have to give without the expectation of a transaction.

The way to do that is to brand your community as a separate mission-based entity that your business supports - like a free safe space for folks with like-minds to come and connect. You have to give them a reason to come to the community and that reason can’t be to transact with you.

It’s a trust building machine: the more you do it authentically, the more respect you’ll garner. 

Let’s come to the cool bit.

- How will a free community skyrocket your course sales?

I want you to look at the formula below and internalise that because that is the holy grail of why people buy something.

Conversion formula

Now, lets understand how can a free community increase your chances of conversion, hence more sales of your products and services

A free community will build trust as we discussed above. Therefore, it will also improve the visitor's motivation.

Another thing I want to talk about is the principle of reciprocity.
Principle of reciprocity meaning if someone does any positive action to you, you respond back the same way.

To explain this let me take an example.

Has someone ever been good to you? Or given you something you need?

Imagine a friend who lent you money when you needed it the most or offered you guidance when you were stuck. And later you go hook and crook to help that person or try to help him/her if he/she needs your help. This is exactly what reciprocity is.

Similar works with free communities. By giving away so much for free, you build the user's motivation to give back to you i.e. transact with you in the future.

Their friction to buy and anxiety will automatically reduce because they will be curious that if you provide so much for free, what all will be there in the paid offering.

And then all you need to build is a solid value proposition and voila your sales will skyrocket.

- What is a value proposition?

By value proposition I mean that you need to make sure the value the members get is far greater than the price they pay and you build out a solid offer keeping the needs of the members in mind.

And what’s the hack to find out the needs of your members?

You got it. Go to your community and skim through what topics the discussion is going on.

What are the most sought-after skills in the community? What are the most seeked skills in the community? 

Snapshot of our community on Discord and how using the search we did social listening of what skill was most needed in the community

I skimmed through our community on discord and figured that at least 50 people want a game design cohort. You can also figure out what is the most searched/ in-demand skill and then plan your schedule accordingly.

You can do the same on Scenes using our search functionality.

This is how the search feature helps you in finding anything you are looking for in a community

With this, you are all set to have a solid free community acting as a solid base for your paid community.

2) Paid community

Your paid community is exactly like a classroom. You’ll host a cohort of say 60-100 students. They’re limited in numbers, so they’ll remember each other - interactions will be multi-fold. It’s just the right number for students to mingle with each other. Eventually, these students will identify themselves with the cohort (just like you identify yourself with your class from college / school).

The paid community has to actively be managed by you - because you’ve charged money from these guys. However, it is only to be managed for the course duration.

- How to structure your paid community?

Team wise distribution in a cohort based course

The ideal way to structure a paid community is in teams - say you have 60 students, divide them into sub groups of 3-to-4 members per team. This allows you to have more control over the cohort, as well as, allows your students to have buddies to work with on projects. Every few weeks, you can spice things up by shuffling the teams.

Fun fact:

Having run cohorts myself and mentoring ~500 students, I can confirm that students pay for the value that cohort brings (and not for the tuition). Just the way in colleges, you value the peer-group / alumni more than academics. Same dynamics apply.

Second thing that makes cohorts more valuable for the students is the access to you. To facilitate this without hassle, you should split students into teams and make it a point to spend some time with each team every two weeks.

- What should you do inside a course community?

Classroom analogy applies here. Before you let a new batch in, seed the community with welcome posts and instructions (eg: add a start here video that acts as a virtual campus tour). This is to orient new students as to how the next few days will be like.

If you’re using Scenes which gives you audio/video capabilities, you can host virtual freshers and make sure everyone meets everyone (and feels comfortable).

If you do the on-boarding right with engagement activities like freshers party (and more), you’ve set a solid foundation. Eventually, the engagement will take care of itself because once the ice is broken, one discussion leads to another.

Next thing you want to set in stone is the culture of recognition. Celebrate your top students publicly and cheerlead everyone else always. Promote healthy competition via a points system and leader-board.

This is how a leader-board looks on Scenes

This is an example of how a leader-board looks on Scenes. Seeing other people get more recognition acts as an incentive for new members to engage and get more points and rewards and hence climb the leader-board.

And, what about the free community?

While in a paid community, students automatically come in batches - you should also maintain the same dynamics in the free one. Humans need to belong to a group at all times, even if it is a group of newcomers. This way, you also get to manage the newcomers better - contrary to if you had a newcomer entering arbitrarily as one-offs. This functionality is made possible on Scenes via the on-boarding form + people management. 

The on-boarding feature of Scenes to induct new members into the community

This is an example of how an on-boarding form looks like on Scenes when a new member comes in. It’s a bunch of questions to batch people together and figure out similar interests. It also gives you an overview if the person is a right fit for your community or not

People management feature of Scenes where you can see roles and permissions that are assigned to people

This is the people management tab on Scenes where you can give roles and permissions to new members based on their skills, interests etc. You can also appoint special roles to people who are part of your paid programme to build an exclusivity feel. 

Humans love feeling special. An exclusive role to paid members will also act as a motivator for new members to join your programme to get that role.

Free community is also where you should drop sneak peeks from ongoing paid cohorts (eg: success stories of students and recording of classes). This is to let free members get a taste of what it's like to be inside. 

Encourage paid members to assist free members - this eventually compounds into more paid students for you overtime, because that’s the magic of community-led growth.

Some final thoughts:

The key is to provide value, have fun and then enjoy the compounding effects of community. If you are looking to create a community for your course, get a demo of Scenes by clicking here.

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