Monday, December 15, 2008

Encouraging Participation in Online Communities

Understanding participation in online communities is one of the important areas that will help educators and others who are interested in developing and maintaining effective learning communities.

Brian Butler has contributed some important theoretical and empirical findings to our understanding of online community participation (See my summary of Butler et al Building Community Online.) His recent article with several colleagues in the Communications of the ACM (2007, 50(2), 69-73) is another useful contribution.

In main findings is this article are:
  1. Offline interactions are the strongest contributor to posting activity.
  2. Users perceptions of "usefulness of the website" are the strongest predictor of viewing community website material.
  3. Larger communities produce more posts and more views. Small online communities may have great difficulty in surviving.
  4. Efforts by the community leader did not affect online posting or viewing.
In the concluding remarks about these findings, Butler and his colleagues suggest that the importance of "offline interactions" may be less important in high quality information technology (broadband and good conferencing technologies) infrastructures than lower quality structures. They suggest that in this study offline meetings may overcome the problems associated with more cumbersome technology.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that efforts by the community leader did not affect participation. They suggest that leadership may be a foundation building block for establishing the community rather than a factor that affects participation.

These findings provide more clues about creating effective online participation, but we still have much to learn. It is particularly important for us to understand more about the relationship between online relationships and online community building.

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