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UK Coaching Team
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Rapport Building and Communicating Coach Developer

5 Top Tips for Starting Up an Online Community of Practice – Part 2: Delivering

The second of a two-part article exploring how communities of practice (CoPs) can take place in an online environment

Communities of Practice are a great way to learn! A social form of learning, CoPs bring people together on an ongoing basis with a common purpose or passion to learn from each other. 

Once you have planned your online community of practice (CoP), you are ready to go! 

Here are five things to consider when delivering a CoP. 

1. Selecting the topic(s)

With a pre-determined topic, the facilitator is more likely to be prepared and have thoughts on where the conversation might go and questions to aid discussion. Selecting a topic on the fly might be more difficult, particularly for those who have less experience of facilitating or lack confidence.

2. Choosing a format

The facilitator should have a format in mind, but also be flexible enough to allow the conversations to go where the members of the CoP would like. Therefore, being able to plan as you go is a skill worth sharpening. For example, prioritising a certain question over others.

Judging when to move on and when to delve further is another judgement skill for the facilitator. Sometimes it is worth changing the direction of the conversation and sometimes it might be beneficial to pick up on a pertinent point raised to delve deeper and create further discussion. 

For all of this, knowing your audience is key.

Reflect

Do you know what people might want and are enjoying? Do you know people you can call upon to give an answer or point of view if needed?

 

3. Facilitating the CoP

The facilitator can ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to take part in the discussion if they so wish. Not everyone may want to speak though so it is important that facilitators do not put people on the spot to speak. To avoid this, it is helpful for the group to decide at the start how they might want to indicate their desire to speak (e.g. raising a hand, indicating in the chat box).

A facilitator can be great to guide conversation, but it can result in individual members responding to the facilitator, rather than a group discussion taking place. It is important to encourage members to respond to each other rather than just the host. The facilitator can encourage this by giving others the chance to speak rather than filling the silence.

No one really likes silence, and so often people will look to fill the silence, but silence is okay! A facilitator who is confident enough to leave silences will indirectly encourage others to carry on the conversation. This is important online as people might be waiting to see if anyone else is going to speak before they make their point due to fear of talking over someone.

Reflect

Online v Face to Face CoP:

Does everyone want to contribute, or do they just want to listen? Are they multitasking in the background? Have they had chance to plan beforehand? Is this okay?

 

4. Maximising engagement (Cameras on or off?)

People like to see each other’s faces and don’t want to talk over one another, and this can lead to a fear of contributing or awkward silences! Having cameras on can help people to see whether anyone else is trying to speak but sometimes it is more difficult to have cameras on, depending on numbers attending and bandwidth. It might be worth encouraging people to use the chat box feature more and to engage using audio only. 

Another method that can be considered is to mute mics/turn cameras off when not speaking and use a ‘raise hand’ feature to indicate a desire to speak, then turning the camera on when you are speaking.

If you are trying to create a community feel, it is useful to see everyone’s face to create connections and pick up on things like body language. It also ensures that people are concentrating on the conversation and less likely to be multitasking in the background. It is easy to hide if your camera isn’t turned on. Those who just join via audio tend to not get involved in the conversation as much and sit back.

There are some negatives for this approach, as not everyone will feel comfortable on camera and want to reveal themselves – or in some cases, their home environment – in this way.   

Another consideration here is that if some people are using a mobile device, they may not have access to the features that a laptop provides.

Consider

Online v Face to Face CoP:

How can technology impact engagement for online CoPs? 

How does Cameras on or off impact the conversations?

 

5. Using the chat box

An added feature of an online CoP is the chat box. This can be a good tool to use if people don’t feel confident speaking up or want to indicate their desire to speak without interrupting. However, the chat box can also be distracting and disrupt the flow of a conversation. You may want to limit the use of the chat box to specific times during the CoP or for specific uses (e.g. to share resources with others). This can be decided by members at the start of the CoP.

Reflect

How could you utilise the chat box better in your online CoP?

 

Our infographic (right) provides more information about why CoPs are a great way to learn and how you can set one up.

Download it below. 

Have You Read Part 1?

Head this way for five top tips on planning a CoP

Learn More

Related Resources

  • 5 Top Tips for Starting Up a Community of Practice

    View
  • Creating Ownership in a Community of Practice

    View
  • Using Observations to Help Evaluate a Community of Practice

    View

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