No matter what your interest is, there’s probably an online community for it. And while it’s nice to know you can find other people who love, say … the art of vegetable sculptures, or maybe frisbee golf (is there really such a thing?), random websites dedicated to your favorite topics can also be overwhelming, confusing and worst of all … colossal time-wasters: “Oh, look! Dancing cucumbers that look like Elvis!”
But online collaborative communities? Well, that’s a different story. They serve as hubs – or virtual coffee shops, if you will – that bring information and ideas to individuals or groups, and provide a space for peer-to-peer learning, interaction and facilitation.
Some people simply call them communities of practice. In fact, one of the most recognized leaders in social learning practice, Etienne Wenger, describes such communities as, “Groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
Everyone from politicians to educators and artists are finding ways to use online collaborative communities as a platform to connect, learn and grow. Here is a look at how four of them are bringing people together in innovative ways:
In 2004, a Bostonian by the name of Sal Khan set out to help his younger cousin, Nadia, as she struggled with math in school. The problem? Nadia lived in New Orleans. So their first tutoring sessions took place over the phone or with the help of Yahoo Doodle.
Impressed with her improved grades, Nadia’s brothers soon sought Sal’s help, as did a string of other cousins and family members. Faced with time constraints and full schedules, Sal began posting tutorial videos on YouTube in 2006, soon attracting viewers from outside the family. And as they say … the rest is history.
Today, Khan’s Academy represents the ultimate in collaborative communities. Users can access thousands of instructional videos, practice sessions, learning tools and interactive exercises through its website. With 10 million monthly visitors from 200 countries, over 350,000 registered teachers regularly utilize the site, which remains a non-profit organization and is free of charge.
While the program has not been without its’ critics, it has also seen phenomenal success, garnering praise and financial support from industry and business leaders all over the world (including Bill and Melinda Gates). Fostering collaboration between students, teachers and the Academy team, it continues to promote the mix of online learning with traditional classrooms settings.
Two years ago, Amsterdam native Michel Vissar overheard a couple of guys on a train lamenting about how they’d been rejected for a job, most likely due to their lack of presentation skills. The conversation made Vissar think: if only the pair knew how to contact him, he could probably help them out, given his background in theatre.
That one thought – combined with Vissar’s interest in collaborative consumption – inspired him to found Konnektid – Social Learning Anytime, Anywhere. The site provides access to the services and talents of others. Described as the first, “… demand-based platform of the Netherlands where people can share skills and knowledge with each other,” the next step is a pan-European rollout.
So how does it work? Members register (for free) through konnektid.com, with the idea that, “If you want to receive help from a community, you should also contribute.”
Users share their skills, talents, knowledge and experience with others, based on their profiles. For example, one member might know everything there is to know about website development. They’ll find another member who is opening a new business and trying to set up a website. If the two connect and agree that it’s a good match of skills and expertise, then they arrange an in-person or virtual meeting.
What makes this learning community so effective and successful? It’s the one-to-one interaction. As Vissar states on his website, “… we live in our own social bubbles, where we share our skills only with the people we know from circles like work or studies. We are not making the most of what is around us. This needs to change.”
Since 1997, The Center for the New American Dream has been trying to help citizens understand how consumption is connected to quality of life and our environment. Based on this notion, they have launched the New Dream Collaborative Communities Program, with the hopes of inspiring and connecting their members, allowing them to develop local initiatives and increase social ties.
Providing users a variety of tools and resources, the community focuses on five main objectives: sharing resources; strengthening food systems; localizing the economy; building social ties; and engaging local government. By highlighting what is happening in individual communities, the organization hopes to impact its national initiatives and increase support, interest and participation.
At first glance, Drawsum looks like an amateur website made by maybe a fifth-grader. First-time visitors might think they’ve accidentally accessed a young artist’s portfolio, or even an art teacher’s classroom project.
But after a closer look, users see that the site is simply an art canvas – one very large, complex canvas – just waiting for new contributions from any person with an idea who is willing to share it. In fact, the image on the site is actually a massive collaboration between thousands of people all over the world, changing organically, without pattern and with limitless potential. There’s no fancy landing page, no lengthy explanations, no pesky links or advertisements. It’s just that simple.
Drawsum has been described as a sort of Wikipedia for artists, only instead of words, you’ll see images, drawings, colors and themes – all made free of charge. The creations are open to anyone, and are without censorship or critique. Budding artists, interested viewers and everyone in between can experience a hands-on art project on any given day, and be inspired by other contributors.
Have you been a part of an online collaborative community?
If so, what was your experience? Did you find it inspiring, life-changing, amusing or helpful? We’d love to hear about how you are using collaborative communities or communities of practice to enrich or develop your personal or business interests! Leave your comments below.