I’ve been contributing as a guest to an online course run by my friend Derek Chirnside, and today we were discussing the issue of the ways in which people participate in online communities. In particular, we were talking about the different phases people seem to go through when they begin blogging.
I shared with him a simple framework I’ve developed, based on my thinking and experience in this area – so tonight I thought I’d commit to putting it into diagramatic form and sharing it here for comment.
My diagram attempts to illustrate how many participants in the online environment move through phases as they gain understanding and confidence.
- consumer – The first phase is where participants (often referred to as lurkers) simply read and explore the posts of others. Far from being passive as the word lurker suggests, consumers can be very active participants in an online community – just not yet visible to others.
- commentor – as this label suggests, these people make comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.
- contributor – as this label suggests, contributors are those who have started their own blogs or who initiate new threads on discussion forums. They are confident about putting forth their own ideas etc.
- commentator – a commentator is someone who frequently takes a ‘meta’ view of what is going on, providing a level of leadership within the community. Their contributions will often draw attention to the ‘bigger picture’, making links with other work – analysing and synthesising the contributions of others.
Of course, it’s not intended to suggest that people will operate exclusively within one of these phases – there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that contributors also post comments on other people’s blogs etc. The 4 Cs are an attempt to illustrate the fact that most people appear to operate predominantly in one or other of the phases in their journey to becoming online citizens, and that there is some sort of progression that characterises this growth.
In my conversation with Derek C, we spent time discussing our observation that so many of the growing number of online courses we’ve seen require students to operate their own blog, or to become active participants in an online forum. What we observe is an inevitable spread of participation, with few people actively contributing or initiating posts etc. While some of this may be put down to differences in learning style or personality, I believe that we should also be thinking about the fact that a semester long course, for example, is simply too short a time for someone who has never seen a blog before to suddenly be expected to have one up and running as a part of their course participation.
What about making the reading of other people’s blogs a course requirement, or simply adding comments to the course tutor’s blog etc. as a legitimate learning activity. This would build into the course the opportunity to explore and understand the nature of the blogging experience and how knowledge is shared and developed through these interactions – before asking learners to jump off the deep end and create their own.
I’d be interested to hear of what others think about this model – and how it aligns with the experience that you’ve had in online groups and communities.