In the land of eLearning, most communities aren't.

Visit the threaded discussion forums that pass for community on the Web and you often find the streets empty. Community is more than installing software. No people, no community.

The Learnativity Alliance's Marcia Conner identifies these hallmarks of a strong online community:

  • Strong connection between participants
  • Critical mass of content from community members
  • Integrated rich content and transactions
  • Choices alongside unbiased consumer testimonials
  • Timely
  • A sense of fun and discovery

There goes the neighborhood
by Janelle Brown, Salon

"Community" is quite possibly the most over-used word in the Net industry. True community -- the ability to connect with people who have similar interests -- may well be the key to the digital world, but the term has been diluted and debased to describe even the most tenuous connections, the most minimal interactivity. The presence of a bulletin board with a few posts, or a chat room with some teens swapping age/sex information, or a home page with an e-mail address, does not mean that people are forming anything worthy of the name community

The Art of Hosting Good Conversations by Howard Rheingold. When I joined the early, free-wheeling WeLL in the early 90s, Howard was hosting half a dozen conferences, each of them a swarm of activity. This is the context for this article. Nonetheless, many of these principles apply to moderating any on-line discussion. For example,

  • A feeling of ownership. Participants become evangelists.
  • A place where everybody builds social capital individually by improving each other's knowledge capital collaboratively.
  • Enable people to create a gift economy for knowledge-sharing.
  • Make newcomers feel welcomed, contributors valued, recreational hasslers ignored
  • All online systems tend to fail to cohere without careful intervention. But the intervention has to be ground-up, not top-down.
  • All online social systems are challenged by human social foibles and technological bugs that tend to split groups apart.
  • Remember that both civility and nastiness are contagious. (The WeLL was chock full of flame wars.)
  • Bend over backwards to be fair and civil when challenged. You are performing the public drama of the foundation myth of the community.
  • Have fun! Signal that it's okay to experiment, okay to not take yourself and the whole enterprise too seriously.
  • Encourage people to talk among themselves


Humanizing Distributed Electronic Meetings by Peter+Trudy Johnson-Lenz.

Many organizations report that on-line conversations, particularly in distributed electronic meetings where people participate at different times and from different places, tend to be formal, distant, scattered, and disjointed. The qualities of connection, coherence, integration, and real collaboration often seem elusive over a network. Sometimes they're there, sometimes they're not.

But it doesn't have to be this way. It is possible to have electronic meetings distributed across space and time where people feel heard, contribute what they think, feel, and want, and where real learning and collaboration take place. All it takes is intention, planning, skill in using the medium, and a willingness to risk bringing one's whole self to the process.

  • Communicate electronically with others as you would have them communicate with you.
  • Discover and respect diverse on-line communications and learning styles.
  • Ask others how they prefer to receive information and communications. For example, some people prefer lots of interaction and short pieces of information, while others like lots of details and getting everything at once and then they take longer to digest and reflect. Some want to be involved in many things on line and others want to focus on just a few.
  • Be a full participant & send as well as receive. It's always easier to be a spectator than a player.
  • Acknowledge explicitly what you want to encourage. For example, if you ask for ideas, suggestions, or critical feedback and get responses from others, acknowledge their contributions explicitly, preferably by name, even if you disagree.
  • If you want to increase responsiveness, acknowledge and praise those who are.
  • If you have a strong reaction to something (either positive or negative), take time before responding. Your words will live on much longer than your initial reaction

The Four-Fold Way

  1. Show up in all ways.
  2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
  3. Tell the truth without judgment or blame.
  4. Be open to outcomes but not attached to outcomes.


Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community by John "Tex" Coate

  • The currency is human attention. Work with it. Discourage abuse of it.
  • You are in the relationship business.
  • Welcome newcomers. Help them find their place.
  • Show by example. Strive to influence and persuade.
  • Have a big fuse. Never let the bottom drop out.
  • Use a light touch. Don't be authoritarian.
  • Affirm people. Encourage them to open up.
  • Expect ferment.
  • Allow some tumbling.
  • Don't give in to tyranny by individual or group.
  • Leave room in the rules for judgment calls.
  • Encourage personal and professional overlap.
  • Think "tolerance."
Eight Skills for the Successful Web Instructor by Valorie Beer  



© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California