Valuing online communities

Recently, I took part in a discussion in an online health community I belong to (WEGO health) where the  topic was “how do we value online health communities?” This made me think about what I look for in online educational communities (i.e., social networks of educators/instructional designers/trainers).

I do apply similar standards to these types of networks and classify my favorite communities based on:

  • content value
  • social value
  • collaboration value

Content value
I look for communities with a mix of people (instructional designers, teachers, trainers, experts and non-experts, graphic designers, programmers, etc) since I think the best content comes from a variety of opinions on different aspects of a single problem. A part of my content assessment is how much genuine discussion there is  (versus self-promotion).

Social value
As with online health communities, social value is in the eye of the beholder. What I look for is a mix of people willing to acknowledge a broad spectrum of understanding. (In other words, don’t tell me there’s only one way to apply ADDIE.)

Collaboration value
The collaboration value of a community can certainly be complemented by  tools. What does the community offer to foster discussion and collaboration? Discussion forums? Collaboration spaces? Webinars? How easy is it to share different types of information using the tools provided? But the human element still drives collaboration value. How actively does the community use the tools? How likely is the community to interact to develop grass roots projects (vs merely sharing links)?

In encouraging learners to use social networks professionally, my lesson would be: take advantage of the larger universe of opinions and practices out there and always think about how you can use these networks to effect change. Much of the value you get out of the group will depend on what you put into it.

My online communities right now in this field include: Twitter (@Callooh), various Ning groups I belong to, and LinkedIn (some groups are definitely better than others when it comes to discussion vs spam).

What are your favorite online communities and how do you value them?

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