Learning communities (LC) are active in the virtual environment, consisting of like-minded individuals who have a common interest and get together regularly over long periods of time to both share and gain knowledge and skills. Many of the learning communities are specific to skills required in virtual worlds such as building, scripting, clothes design, event planning, and machinima. Additional groups use the environment to meet about other topics and the environment is simply a platform for the occurrences, these groups focus on topics ranging from professional interests (STEM strategies, Constructivist learning, Literacy) to personal goals (weight loss, language learning, political engagement).
Participants come from remote locations around the world, meeting at designated times for no monetary compensation, no points or certificates , no mandates from a supervisor. They gather to learn out of personal interest, motivation and the desire to do something better. In my real life I often struggle to describe/define “what a learning community looks like”, as I provide support to educators who are required to participate in such learning. In the virtual environment it seems to happen so easily, yielding learning, productivity and collaboration among participants. The collaboration “in-world” often extends from and to other social media formats such as Twitter and Facebook and is the fodder for Blogs and Wikis, thus sharing and growing the knowledge base.
The virtual LC members either stumble upon each other at some location of mutual interest, or search for a group that is meeting on their topic. A group may become too large or diverse to meet needs so smaller groups may emerge to continue the learning in a more focused fashion. Levels of expertise among members does not seem to matter, in my experience. Certainly more capable members of the group have more to share and take a leadership role, but in general everyone interested is welcome to attend. LC participants regularly chat in the group chat (specific and seen by that group only) between meetings. Providing assistance, asking questions and coaching each other through a task.
Necessary LC characteristics, defined in the literature, are present in these communities; Common interest and goal, collaboration, continual learning, norms, shared leadership, documenting learning, and perhaps most importantly………RESULTS!