Lifelong learning communities are hosted or self-managed learning communities that your community members control. Communities are affinity groups – groups brought and held together by a shared set of interests and goals. These could be a shared project and goal, a professional niche, old school or geographic ties, an extended family, etc.
A healthy group has these basic elements:
1) A shared reason for its existence: its purpose and goals. These could be as general as the mutual support of a group of friends continuing on through life together, as specific as a book study group, or a professional development community dedicated to solving a particular problem. This shared reason is the group’s shared narrative, and forms the foundation of the group’s existence.
2) Group chemistry: The group works to establish relationships between its members. Relationships are best established and maintained in person, face-to-face. All groups will progress through a formation period typically described as “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.” Members must recognize this and commit to working through these stages, or the group will fall apart or fade away. The reward is that a well formed group can do great things, so much more than any of the individuals alone.
3) Structure includes group size, process, and schedule. Groups need to set the group rules, define the processes for participation, in alignment with the group purpose. These should be as simple as possible in alignment with the groups purpose. It is best to create this structure as a group project, to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate, to buy in to the agreement. It’s also a good idea to periodically adjust the group rules and structure to assure keep aligned with the purpose and member needs. Groups can spend too much time fiddling with structure, so it might be a good idea to discuss structure changes at a specific time, rather then in an unstructured way.
4) Momentum is typically achieved in relation to the groups goals, and often driven by a group leader, which we call the mentor. This mentor is a role, and the mentor role can be filled by a professional mentor, a volunteer, or rotate around the group members. Groups can also be self-directed, but this typically requires a high level of coordination and support. The mentor deserves to be supported, so mentored groups usually have a higher subscription rate to compensate the mentor for their time, their expertise, and for sustaining group momentum.
Group membership is based on a subscription model. Subscription rates are set by the group members in conjunction with the group mentor. By using an Practical Academics to host your community, you get all of the benefits of a online community, plus the embedded learning and communications tools of a cloud-based, mobile enabled Learning Management System.