March 2020 changed so many things.

Our office in Mumbai is empty today, our team is working remotely, our physical classrooms are vacant. But our mission continues – of enabling career pivots in emerging tech. Through all the challenges, one of the things I have observed with admiration is just how adaptable and resilient we can be as an organization and our learners

I don’t know about you, but Covid has made me rethink so much about the community. And especially what community means for learners.

At GreyAtom, we have been running our programs in various formats – pure offline, purely online, hybrid – Online program with offline interventions –

#1Pure offline – This was ideal for people who needed a significant amount of discipline and rigor in a program. Also, their dominant learning mode was in a physical setting, in front of an instructor. We were able to plug in a large amount of peer learning in this format

#2Pure Online – Folks who opted for this program have been self-learners. They needed a mentor to push them forward on a learning journey they had already begun themselves, even before coming into our programs

#3Hybrid – This is my favorite model and I built it ground up. A bulk of teaching & instruction happens online. Offline sessions are a study group that meets once a month for a full day to jam together on projects. 

We were able to flip the classroom with this model. Learners come already prepared for the session and use the precious in-person time to work together on their projects, fill up their learning gaps. Initially, we used to set a tight agenda, but later we started to keep it more free flowing. This model isn’t just about how  “instruction delivery” happens, it’s more about learning with a community. Due to the pandemic we couldn’t meet post March.

This third model is where I think we are going to see a lot of innovation happen around the globe. Pure online learning for most people is in 1 word – disengaging. People need people to learn and a community of learners – who commit to their own lifelong learning goals is a force to reckon with.People feel like they belong when they do things together.The community adds in value by asking questions, giving ideas, sharing resources and adding in their own experiences or opinions.It becomes like this safe place where they can open up.

In the entire process of teaching & learning – enough importance has been always given to the content, the instructor – but not so much to the community. I think that’s where the future of learning is going to be – here’s why.

Content is so freely available, context is Not

So yes, you did the online course by the world’s best university. How do you apply the learning in your context? Who do you go to when you spot a problem at work, but run out of creativity, beyond what you learned? I am part of this engaging community of Lenny Rachitsky and of late I have been able to take away some interesting solutions to my business problems from within the community. I am able to post things on these communities that I would never post on Twitter.

It’s a strong support system – People need People to Learn

Our learners have time and again said – Our relationships with peers have helped me when we are struggling in courses. It is an important support system — they can totally relate to my experience, my feeling of being stuck and are able to navigate me through this phase. Access to a community of learners, who have been there done it before me has been a huge enabler in my learning journey. The community feels like a more trusted environment. A lot of people in the community are willing to ask for help.

Come for the course, stay for the community

Online programs end but learning the subject continues. How do you keep diving deeper into what you learned without a community of peers?  In a discussion on a community slack group, people are authentic, vulnerable self. They ask for help. They talk about the challenges they are dealing with. They show things work in progress and not just the finished product. You trust everyone there and so feel freer to post things

I think learning communities will disrupt standalone online education and very few people know how to do it today. Alumni, Personal Stories will grow the community and not pure marketing messages. Peers & Alumni will look at your work more closely than in colleges. They will give references, introductions, recommendations which will act as better credentials than a degree.

The need for online communities and better tooling for community leaders is more intense than it was before. The role of online communities, places where people can gather, it’s so important now. People are looking for communities to serve professional needs. People are looking for collaborators, opportunities, people to learn from, network with.

When we were in our 2nd fundraising round, I had an opportunity to interact with Prof. Bharat Anand, the faculty chair of the HBX initiative. He asked us a question back then, that stayed with me ever since. “ What makes it hard for someone to plug out of your ecosystem?” The answer, which wasn’t very clear back then, but it is now – is community

We kicked off our online learning community – G-Tribe last month – we are 35 days old as I write this and at 903 members. That’s an average rate of adding 25 members every day. 

In the next post, I will talk more about our vision with G-Tribe, how we are building it up – how we got bootstrapped very quickly, tools that we are using currently.