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  • Writer's pictureKatie Hynes, PhD

3 Ways to Design Digital Learning that Sparks Conversation, Engagement, and Transformation

You’d like to tap the power of social learning and gather your team digitally to work together on upskilling in key areas. But you’re understandably concerned: What if barely anyone participates? What if only a few voices dominate? What if momentum fizzles and people get bored, distracted, checked out?


We get it! The same concerns guide the team at Your ID when we design, build, and manage digital cohorts and social learning networks.

That’s why we were excited to book-club The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (2018). Full of brilliant solutions for the many what-ifs that spring up when bringing people together, the book speaks to a wide variety of event formats (conferences, parties, dinners, meetups, summits, classes, etc.) and presents takeaways that can be tailored to many types of events.


This post ties Parker’s gems to our focus at Your ID: bringing teams together digitally, at work, to learn.


What emerged from our team’s discussions of the book is a set of essential considerations to guide our thinking as we design learning experiences for digital cohorts.


Check out our top three takeaways!

#1: Get crystal clear on the purpose

While we went into the book already knowing how crucial it is to define the “why” driving any learning development plan, Parker pushes us to go even deeper. She argues that a gathering should have a purpose that’s “bold, sharp” and “disputable.” This purpose then guides all other decisions around the structure and content of the experience.

So, it’s not good enough to say a social learning network should be built “because our managers need to work on leadership skills.” What skills do they need to work on right now, and why?


Perhaps after some thought, you determine that your people need to have a hand in redefining the company’s culture through more effective conflict resolution. This is both more focused and debatable, setting you up to design a gathering that’s more likely to provoke the kind of change you seek.

#2: Decide who needs to be there—and who doesn’t

Parker discusses how essential it is to be particular about your guest list: Who’s your gathering for? Who’s it really not for? By getting your invites down to the essential people, you can better curate an experience for them and ultimately achieve the goal of your gathering.

For example, is your conflict resolution cohort for all managers at your organization? Just senior level people? Or new managers only?


Since your gathering’s purpose has to do with redefining company culture, you might decide to only invite top-level managers. Or, depending on your organization, that same rationale might mean flipping the spotlight around and starting with mid-level managers. Future cohorts could have a slightly different focus and purpose, and the guest list would reflect that.

#3: Host with “generous authority”

Digital cohorts meet more than once as they progress on their learning journey, and participants receive nudges and invitations to connect on the learning platform between sessions. These points of connection all provide opportunities for community managers to draw on the power of what Parker calls “generous authority.” The guidelines you provide to the facilitators ushering learners through the social learning experience should be written in this spirit: “A gathering run on generous authority is run with a strong, confident hand, but it is run selflessly, for the sake of others,” writes Parker.

This might look like a facilitator putting different people in conversation, inviting input from learners who have been quiet, or expertly steering a virtual meeting back to its intended focus when a single participant starts to dominate.

Related to this, Parker promotes the use of “pop-up rules,” which are the modern answer to classic etiquette and provide freedom to rethink and redesign community norms in service of a gathering’s purpose. Your cohort’s pop-up rules could be encapsulated in the community guidelines that specify the types of behavior expected in the learning platform (e.g., everyone posts a reply at least once a week; funny emojis and GIFs are encouraged, etc.).

Our final takeaways

Parker’s book pushes our thinking about how to design effective digital cohorts and social learning networks. We love the way she thoughtfully considers each step of a participant’s journey through a gathering, from the moment they receive the invite all the way through to the event’s conclusion. There are so many opportunities to inject creativity, delight attendees, and reinforce the purpose of the learning experience, from the name you give the program to the ways you prime people to think about the topic before kickoff to the activities you use to launch and later close the learning experience.

What memorable gatherings have you attended? Did they have these elements—and/or some other secret ingredient? Share about it in the comments!


 

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2 Comments


Cypcyone Thomas
Cypcyone Thomas
Feb 19

I love the idea of personalizing engagement with digital learning. I understand many online learners may be introverted and can view online learning as very distant. I particularly love the third takeaway the idea of nudging learnings to interact with the learning platforms is a great way to build connection which is part of the personal learning trend definition

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Cypcyone Thomas
Cypcyone Thomas
Feb 29
Replying to

According to various articles and research regarding digital learning it is becoming the future. I personally like the flexibility digital learning offers and in many instances learners can move at their own pace. Digital learning can produce low engagement from learners hence why I find this blog interesting. I believe the more creativity that is added to digital learning this will have a positive impact on increased student engagement.

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