Want to Create an Online Community? Copy Articulate.

The holy grail of shifting training from a one-off event to an ongoing process is to develop a robust and active learning community – a group that comes together informally, as needed, in order to share best practices, ideas, examples and to kick around questions about intractable problems.  Learning communities offer just-in-time answers and members can stay current on the latest trends.

I’ve seen very few examples of sustained, active, robust learning communities.  But somehow Articulate seems to have cracked this nut with their Elearning Heroes elearning community.  It boasts more than 107,000 members.  And I must say, it’s a pretty amazing resource if you’re involved in elearning development.  Even if you’re not an elearning developer, it offers a model upon which you might want to base your own community of practice.

I’ve had the opportunity to hear Articulate’s Tom Kuhlman speak on several occasions and he’s shared his thoughts on what’s made this community so successful.  Here are my observations on two essential reasons why I think Articulate’s Elearning Heroes community is so amazing and some elements you may want to include if you’re chasing your own Holy Grail of an active, robust community of practice:

Reason #1: TONS of resources I can use. Today.

This is the single greatest reason I frequent the site. If I need a background to jazz up my elearning, I can download it from this community.  If I need a font that looks like hand writing, I can download it.  If I need some inspiration, I can see examples of projects that other members of the Articulate community are working on.

Ideas for Transfer:

Want to start your own community for managers in your organization?  What immediate value do you envision that your community will offer?  Seeding the community with a library of resources is crucial.  Things such as one-on-one meeting templates, remediation plans, coaching models and core competency lists could help get the community started.  Then it’s a matter of encouraging managers to contribute to and build the library.

Reason #2: Immediate Responses

Elearning Heroes isn’t just another company-sponsored website to push its own product, it is a true community. If I have a question about something I’d like to do as I develop an elearning project, I can post it and receive an answer – from Articulate employees or from other elearning developers just like me – within hours (often within minutes).

Articulate is extremely savvy in how they’ve managed to ensure immediate feedback. They employee “community managers” who monitor the site, curate information and basically ensure a positive experience for all community members (for a detailed look at the community manager role, read Nicole Legault’s insightful blog post on this topic).  In addition, the most active community members also earn the title of “Super Hero” in recognition of their contributions.

Ideas for Transfer:

What incentives are there for members to participate in your community? If someone takes the risk to post something, will there be a response?  There’s nothing worse than posting something online, then wondering if anyone else cared enough to read it.  A thriving, active community requires interaction. Articulate’s model of ensuring someone internally is watching for posts and responding is essential, especially in the beginning.  Recognizing and rewarding members for participating is also key to inspiring and maintaining community contributions.

Building a community takes hard work that is both intentional and strategic. Taking a page from Articulate’s Elearning Heroes site can offer a blue print for building your own learner community.

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

Are You A Mac? Or a PC?

My father is in the market for a tablet computer.  Yesterday I took him to the Apple Store.  Then we walked across the street to the Windows Store in order to get a look at an alternative to the iPad. Those experiences couldn’t have been more different.


The Center for Creative Leadership has offered a model for leadership development named the 70/20/10 rule.  Basically, the model indicates that leadership skills emerge through a mix of learning that includes a ratio of 70% challenging assignments and on the job training, 20% supportive relationships (such as supervision, coaching and mentoring) and 10% formal training and classroom study.  This ratio has been embraced by many in the management field to serve as a model for general professional development.

Even though most people still think of training, learning and development as formal classes, training workshops and conferences, that type of learning is often confined to 10% (or less) of professional development.  And manager feedback and coaching only accounts for another 20%.  How then can managers, leaders and training professionals help their staff grow and develop during that other 70% of the time?

A Tale of Two Stores

When my family walked into the Apple Store, we walked into a store abuzz with activity.  There were easily 80-100 customers in the store and there were at least 30 Apple Store employees (“Geniuses”) walking the floor.  We were greeted and right away someone asked how they could help us.  My father began receiving his iPad education (indoctrination?) within 180 seconds of walking through the doors.

He seemed like he was ready to pull the trigger on buying a new iPad, but I suggested we walk across the street to the Windows Store, just to see what else the market had to offer.  When we walked into the Windows Store, we were greeted by three store employees at the door.  One was holding a wireless speaker.  Two others seemed to be full time greeters.  My entire family walked up to the display of Surface tablets and we tried to figure the machines out.  There wasn’t a “Home” button (or any other buttons) on the front of the machine, so we weren’t quite sure what to do when we were greeted by a screen that seemed to be asking for a password.  We poked the touch screen.  We tried hitting the ESC button on the cover/keyboard.  We looked around the store for some help – there were only 3 or 4 other customers in the store.  And there were a few employees milling about, but we weren’t able to catch anyone’s eye.  Unable to figure out how to use the Surface and unable to attract the attention of anyone in the store, we walked past the two professional greeters and the guy holding a wireless speaker and exited the store.

A Guiding Question for 70% of the Time: What’s Possible?

Perhaps there were many reasons nobody came to help us or ask if we had any questions in the Windows Store.  Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if the employees in the store felt they were doing all they could, all that was expected of them.

Sure, Microsoft can conduct wonderful training sessions on sales and customer service (that 10% of the ratio).  Windows Store managers can even observe employees in their own environment and offer feedback (another 20% of the ratio).  But I wondered what would have happened if the store manager took his employees on a field trip across the street to observe what happened inside the Apple Store.  Would my family’s experience have been different if the Windows Store employees had a chance to see what was truly possible within a high-end electronics retail environment?

I believe there are two words that a manager or a learning professional can plant into the minds of their direct reports/trainees that can serve as an ongoing quest for which they should always be on the lookout.  These two words – what’s possible – can guide self-directed professional development (a key element in 70% of the ratio) for any employee or trainee from now until he or she retires.

Knowing that formal training accounts for only 10% or less of professional development, how do you encourage people to seek out “what’s possible”?

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.