Key Social Learning Roles


Premise:  Learning communities or networks thrive because its members possess certain skills and capabilities.  Community members should be able to perform one or more of the five roles described in the table that follows.

The road ahead:  I am presently developing detailed role descriptions, community guidelines, role assessment tools, and the identification of appropriate learning products and offerings.  Please share your comments and ideas to guide me through my next steps.

Role Role Description Key Skills and Capabilities
Consumer The person who looks for and uses content, information, and social connections.
  • Self Directed: Able to identify and pursue learning needs without too much formal structure and rigor.
  • Media Savvy:  Able to use social media in a natural way.
  • Insightful: Able to filter meaningful information, patterns, and commonalities from multiple streams of data.
  • Group Oriented: Able to build collaborative networks and leverage the collective intelligence.
Creator The person who creates, shares, improves, and discusses content and information.
  • Attentive: Able to respond to requests and to reach out to others in a meaningful and timely manner.
  • Designer: Able to format and package ideas and information logically, concisely, and understandably.
  • Researcher: Able to augment and enhance the ideas, stories, and information created and shared by others.
Connector The person who helps others to find the content, information, and people they seek or need.
  • Broker:  Able to persuade others to collaborate.
  • Conductor: Able to simultaneously coordinate with many people.
  • Switched On: Able to understand the political dynamics and cultural values in various communities and networks.
  • Networker: Able to form and sustain networked relationships.
Carrier The person who helps creators to transmit and promote their content and information to others.
  • Communicator:  Able to transmit an idea, story, or information into a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.  
  • Trend Spotter:  Able to notice new and emerging ideas that deserve mass awareness and adoption.
  • Marketer:  Able to select and use media and channels for promoting content and information to a target audience.
Caretaker The person who manages the learning community.
  • Ambassador:  Able to represent the community and portray its goals, purpose, and policies.
  • Advocate: Able to intercede and act as a mediator on behalf of a community or an individual member.
  • Cultivator: Able to put into motion and institutionalize community values, policies, procedures, and practices.
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10 responses to “Key Social Learning Roles

  1. Interesting – a bit similar to Forrester Research Audience Ladder. As you probably know, it’s difficult to classify people and their behaviors. I work in organizational development and we frequently classify individuals by their personality types, learning styles, team roles (Check out the book -The Six Hats) and now social networking use. Isn’t it also true we exhibit different behaviors online than in real life? Just pondering…
    PLO’s are similar in many ways to CoP’s and the expert in that area is Wenger.
    You might also enjoy an article that came out today -Shy or Socialable -It’s in Your Genes: http://topnews.us/content/22926-shy-or-sociable-it-s-your-genes

  2. daretoshare

    Hi Mariancasey. Thank you for your comment. My intention is not to classify people. I would like to provide guidance to people who want to excel at one or more of the roles. I am developing assessment tools to help people identify their gaps and opportunities across each of the roles. The individual will select the gaps to close and the opportunities to pursue. The individual will select the roles that he or she wants to perform – not some tool. Does this make sense?

  3. This is a great start, but I fear you may be reinventing the wheel. I suggest doing a comprehensive literature review to see what other scholars and professionals have already written on this topic. In other words, what are you adding to the discussion that hasn’t been said already?
    Also, each of these roles involves a form of leadership. Thus, what you seem to be saying is that to sustain a learning community, participants need to adopt and be aware of specific roles that add value to individuals and the community. Does this make sense?

  4. daretoshare

    Hi Csessums. Thank you for your comment. I did conduct a literature review and spoke to several of my experienced colleagues before writing this post. We did not come across anything that describes the five roles listed in my post. Please let me know about any research you found or articles you read that relate to my post.

    One of the key messages in my post is that community members assume one or more roles and this is what makes the community thrive and succeed. I believe that some members will need guidance and support in order to excel at the roles they have assumed or have been assigned.

  5. Well, not that you want to read it, but my dissertation found similar elements re: participants in an online learning community… http://csessums.tumblr.com/post/117042523/sessums-dissertation

    Understand, I come at this from the angle of academic research (specifically teaching and learning) where documentation of one’s theories is vital in terms of validity and reliability. What you’ve presented is a taxonomy with no evidence to support any claims that any of this is true. In my field, this and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso. Not to belittle your work, I do appreciate your efforts here and would like to see where you gathered your insights from (i.e., sources).

    What about the person who participates as a lurker? This person can simply ride piggyback on other people’s efforts or carry them to other communities, no? Something to think about I suppose.

  6. daretoshare

    Hi Csessums. Thank you again for your on-going contribution to a discussion about social learning roles. I look forward to reading your dissertation.

    I’ll take that two bucks and a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso! I have been unemployed for several months.

    The main purpose of my blog post was to share definitions of roles that I have observed in numerous learning communities. These roles have been validated by several of my colleagues.

    The roles I described are not absolute truths and I do not possess enough evidence to support my hypothesis that all of these roles drive benefits.

    Rob Cross has published some compelling research results suggesting that connectors and cultural carriers are critical to the success of a social network and organizational performance.

    I’m sure some of the roles in my taxonomy are more important than others, and that there are additional roles worth including. I agree this is a good area for further research.

    By the way, the “lurker” role you suggest is what I meant by the carrier role. I personally do not like the term “lurker” because it sounds sneaky and corrupt.

    I support research and believe it plays an important role in helping to shape our paradigms and methods. I also believe there is a place for sharing ideas and concepts that are not yet fully supported by research.

    I understand and appreciate your views and challenges. Thank you.

  7. cachristman

    Good material, informative and helpful as I am beginning a community development plan. I’ll take real-world experience over academic research any day, thank you.

  8. daretoshare

    Thanks Cachristman. Good luck on our community development plan. What type of community are you planning to develop?

  9. Pingback: Rollen in leernetwerken | Kennis Co-Creatie

  10. Pingback: Key Social Learning Roles « Mi Blog

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