In our online learning experiences, it is important that participants are able to share their thoughts and their progress is some way, large or small. Not only does sharing create a sense of community, it invites everyone to take the same risk: share something personal to a group of strangers online.
A participant can share something as simple as a number indicating their mood at a particular moment, or as complex as uploading a drawing of a bird that they spent over an hour creating. Neither of these offerings are trivial. While they require different sorts of work, they are of the same purpose: to share what may not otherwise be seen; to be open and honest; to fulfill a promise made.
Some of the purposes we've shared with our participants were:
Experimonth: Mood — to check in with yourself and be honest about what you see; and to be consistent with data collection even when it's inconvenient.
Experimonth: Race/Identity — to think and talk openly about a taboo topic with others who want to do the same.
Project FeederWatch: Sketch — to slow down and notice birds enough to draw them and share those drawings with others who may or may not know more about drawing and birding than you do.
It is the sharing of the same purpose, as opposed to the same motivation, that mattered in these projects. Divorcing the two allowed us to encourage participants to find their own motivations and alter the experience to their needs. This is a powerful lever and doesn't sacrifice the real reason you're creating the experience to begin with.
Be sure you know. When designing your experience, hone in on the essence of what you're trying to accomplish and be clear about that in your communication. And at the same time, let participants know that they are open to fitting the experience to their needs. This is, in part, the beauty of an informal, self-directed, learning experience.
Watch the video below, made by our facilitators, where they discuss how to ensure participants are aware of and on the same page about the project’s shared purpose: