magine a room filled with people from all walks of life, all coming together to share their thoughts and ideas. It's like having a global exchange program without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home.
Companies are seeing the advantages too. Online communities give businesses a great way to get feedback from their customers and measure their expectations.
But what about education? Can online communities really improve the learning experience? Absolutely! A survey showed that 85% of people who used an online communal learning platform improved their skill levels.
You're probably wondering, how can I get in on this? Well, we've conducted research and picked out the best online community platforms to help you build a cohort of learners and create your courses. Even better, we'll provide you with the pros and cons of each platform and the essential features of ideal community platforms.
The Online Learning Community Landscape
Before we go into the main gist of this article, let's look at the stats on online communities.
- In 2019 about 76% of the online population related to at least one online community.
- Facebook, the largest online community, has about 10 million groups, with an estimated 1.8 billion Facebook users in at least one group.
- The market size of the worldwide enterprise social network and online communities was valued at $5.56 billion in 2021, and it is expected to grow by about 16.5% between 2021 and 2028.
- 55% of brands state that online communities have contributed to higher sales.
- 90% of online communities report that suggestions from members have helped improve products and services.
All the stats show that online community platforms are critical marketing tools for brands.
The main driver of online community growth is the increased focus on social media as an enterprise communication and marketing tool. Social media has emerged as an effective communication avenue to reach billions worldwide.
Due to the prevalence of social media, people are likely to learn about a product first from social media or to contact a brand through social media. Another driver is online communities' comfort, convenience, and sense of belonging.
Brands are aware of the useful feedback from consumers in an online group. So they are pushing to create groups to help customers understand a product and share their experiences using a product or service.
Online communities offer brands numerous opportunities. They foster closer relationships between brands and consumers, help create brand awareness and raise the brand's profile online. Furthermore, online communities drive revenue growth through customer retention and growth.
However, building a digital community is challenging. Some of the problems you are likely to face are insufficient security infrastructure to protect users in the community. The competition from larger brands like Microsoft and Google with better infrastructure can encourage smaller brands to build online communities.
Best Websites to Create Learning Communities
Learning in peer groups or cohort-based learning enhances the learning experience for students as they are more likely to return or be retained on the platform. We have provided details on community platforms like Mighty Network and other alternatives suitable for building a cohort-based learning platform. We also looked at the pros and cons of these websites. Without much ado, let’s dive in.
Yes, that's us. We’re a community-based learning platform that helps digital academies, bootcamps, and businesses build courses and launch online schools. It features data reporting tools such as attendance reports, completion rates, time spent by each learner on the platform, and the top-rated courses.
Not only that, EducateMe has full integration with video conferencing apps like Zoom and Jitsi for a more robust and interactive learning session. These live sessions are also recorded and saved automatically. We also have Kanban boards to monitor students' progress and ease payment issues, and the platform is integrated with the Stripe payment system. Also, Google Calendar for events scheduling and monitoring.
- Offers a wide range of data analytics to monitor the success rate of your courses, assignments, and student participation.
- EducateMe has an inbuilt messenger to boost communication between students and mentors.
- Great platform for building Learning Management Systems with all the needed integrations.
- Great customer support system
- Possesses all the major tools to streamline workflow
- For now, EducateMe lacks a mobile app.
Mighty Networks is one of the best online community platforms that let you create your learning community on your website. Using this community-building platform, you can design a website, create online courses and charge participants. Mighty Networks features activity feeds, each member's profile, and a dashboard for data analytics.
Why should you choose Mighty Networks?
- Enables creation and selling of courses
- Mighty Networks has native apps for Android and IOS devices
- Has a clean and modern interface
- Easy creation and publishing of articles and events
- The mighty network is integrated with Slack for ease of communication
Why should you skip it?
- Payment platforms like Paypal are not supported
- Mighty Networks lacks native support for live video communication
- Absence of quizzes and certificates features on the course builder
- Lacks SSO integration with other platforms
Developed in 2012, Thinkific is a widely known online community and course-building platform. You can use the platform to create and sell courses with videos, text, and images. More to this is the availability of downloadable files, which means new students can always download previous files and get up to speed. Thinkific allows you to create quizzes, and there are certificates for completing the quizzes and courses.
- Thinkific has a free-to-use option; however, you can only create one free course
- It is highly customizable to suit your taste or brand image
- Has superb video production with voice-over Powerpoint presentations
- Has phone support and higher priority support for paid plans
- Supports interactive study as other members can see posts by one member
- Lacks chat option in customer support
- No email marketing channel. You must partner with third parties to get your marketing on track
Course creators use Circle to create courses and utilize its large array of features to build community-based content. A unique feature of Circle is spaces which are avenues to offer various contents to the audience. These spaces can be forums, threads, live events, or publicized and private chat rooms. The idea behind Spaces is to organize content and audiences into sub-groups or discussion threads without mixing up content.
- Has well-developed video features for live events, including HD video recording
- You can monetize your content/courses on Circle using a payment platform like Stripe
- Has members’ directory with fully loaded members’ profiles
- Circle is highly integrated with lots of 3rd party apps to simplify and automate processes
- Leveraging Circle’s integration with Unsplash, you can create courses and posts with high-quality images
- Limited choice of templates to design landing pages
- There are no advanced features like quizzes, surveys, or assignments critical to an online learning platform
Primarily known as a collaboration and work-sharing tool, Slack is common among work colleagues who work remotely. The idea behind Slack is to create a secure space for people to share ideas and keep the discussion flowing.
Slack has channels for general communication with team members and specific information groups. Members can also message each other privately on the platform. Slack simplifies the onboarding process as messages shared in channels are always searchable and viewable by new students on the learning platform.
- Screen sharing is enabled in Slack, and members can get a sneak peek of work on another's screen
- Slack’s free plan entitles you to add as many members as possible
- You can easily share files through the drag-and-drop feature of Slack
- Clean user interface with easy navigation to channels and messages
- Searching for messages or archives is fast and exhaustive
- Poor quality video/voice call
- Only a maximum of 2 people can be on an audio/video call on the free plan
- Only 5GB of storage is available for uploaded files across the entire team on the free plan
Vanilla forums is a great online community platform. It is open source and supports a rich community experience for users. Vanilla allows members to post questions and add social media posts which automatically adjusts to the right formats when added to a post. A user can start a conversation with another user by simply adding @ to the user's profile name. Vanilla also engages its users through its large library of themes and avatars.
- Has a smooth and navigable user interface
- Vanilla is open source; hence you can customize your courses
- Both administrators and users can moderate content on the forums
- Allows for scalability of forums through a collection of plugins
- Comprehensive anti-spam tools
- Lacks a native mobile app
- Lacks a member directory
- No option for a live chat in customer support
Like Vanilla, Discourse is a unique community website that allows easy modification and design of a website built on it. Discourse has well-developed anti-spamming tools and has its native mobile app. It means that users can access it on any platform. Another feature of Discourse is its no limit to scrolling for a conversation on the forum.
- Has a native app that makes it available to anyone
- Has good tools to help the administration and moderation of discussion
- Displays data analytics to measure the health of your online learning community
- It is open-source and can be customized to fit into a brand image
- Uses a trust system to grant long-term members access to moderate discussion
- Not enough plugins to add more functionality to a forum
- Setting up might be complicated for non-tech-savvy people
- There are fears that community admins can read private chats between members
Flarum is a Dutch website for community building that creates interactive forums and communities. Flarum describes itself as “the next-generation forum software that makes online discussion fun.”
Flarum is also open source and allows creatives to express themselves by designing stylish forums. One key feature of Flarum is the categorization/tagging of discussion, which makes navigation easy.
- Flarum is fast and simple to use
- Customization ability helps to create a unique forum
- The Admin side of the user interface is clean and simple
- Organizes a forum with categorization and tagging of discussion
- Flarum sports a Mobile friendly UI
- Installing Flarum is very complex and needs some tech skills to accomplish
- Lack of SEO-related tools
Huddle is majorly a collaboration tool for project-minded enterprises. Managing large teams is challenging for some organizations, so Huddle solves this. With Huddle, team members' views are properly aggregated and maximized.
To enhance teamwork and project execution, Huddle integrates with Office 365 suite, which gives access to Microsoft tools like PowerPoint, Excel, Spreadsheets, etc. using Huddle, you can assign tasks to up to 500 members simultaneously.
- Great customer support
- Secured platform to share files
- Has efficient collaboration tools
- Excellent task management tools with reminders and notifications
- Syncs well with mobile and desktop devices
- Has no free version
- Expensive to use and has limited storage
- The UI could be more user-friendly
Ning’s platform is designed to help creators build an online community with social media features. Sporting features like activity feeds, blogs, events, forums, groups, etc. Ning is more focused on the social side of community communication. Hence it is perfect for social media forums.
It integrates well with Facebook, which means you can easily share content and courses with your learners from the forum on Facebook. Ning also allows users to use SSO using their social media details for easy access.
- Has great social features if you are looking to build a social media-style forum
- You can customize it and generate a unique brand
- You don’t need knowledge of CSS or HTML to use its content management feature
- Offers SEO tools, including Google Analytics and Webmaster
- You can invite members through social media
- Too expensive for a relatively new platform
- Poor customer support
Muut combines a forum, messaging, and commenting capabilities to help you to draw more traffic to your website or course. It has a simple and clean interface that integrates seamlessly with other website-building tools like WordPress, Shopify, WIX, etc.
The Muut in-built design tools mean you can design your website to your standard. Another unique feature of Muut is its ability to cope with a high volume of participants without any lag on the server side.
- Cool customization tools for a unique website
- Has a fast network that makes content live as soon as it is posted
- Has SSO from social media accounts
- Works with mobile and desktop devices
- Can handle large traffic
- Not great for private members forums as your website will be hosted on Muut
- You have to pay to use some of its features, like private messaging
- Has no free plan
Khoros Communities provides a platform to create an online community for any business. It enables brands to create digital hubs where customers can find answers, network with others, and submit novel ideas.Using its community building tools, you can auto-schedule periodic posts about your business. In addition, you can manage numerous responses to the post without affecting the quality of your post. Khoros also helps businesses gauge customer engagement by using Twitter to check Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) data.
- Provides you with important analytics to measure customer engagement with your brand.
- Helps you organize social media posts and the avalanche of responses.
- Has great tools to help you filter unwanted comments on social media.
- Khoros's User Interface is simple enough for admins for community management.
- Khoros communities platform is quite pricey compared to other platforms.
- The limit on text and images is too small.
Core Features of Different Types of Communities
Depending on the type of community you run-membership-based, learning-based, etc. you will need certain features to make it successful. We’ll break it down and give examples of platforms that do each well.
Learning based community
The purpose of this community is to foster shared learning. They discuss course contents and learning challenges. An example is the EducateMe platform, one of the best online community platforms for course building and management.
- Video conferencing: Yes, learning is not limited to text. A video conferencing feature is a good idea for a learning platform to connect learners more. Discussing with others on video makes the experience more humane and helps students relax.
- Social media: integrate a social media feature to give learners a fun way to meet and interact. You can also enable SSO from a social media group to enhance sign-up and login for members.
- Courses: Here, the course contents are displayed, and discussions are categorized according to courses or parts of courses.
- Chatting: it is a quick and easy way for members of a learning-based platform to share ideas. The chatting feature should have fun elements like emojis and Gifs to make it interesting.
- Activity feeds: This updates members on upcoming events like classes, project deadlines, reading, or general information.
- Forums: This is where general debates happen. Mentors can join in to exchange ideas with students. Forums give you an idea of learners' expectations and experience of the courses.
- Data Analytics: helps you collect data that shows success or where you need to improve in the online community. The needed data your community website should collect includes the number of learners, courses, completion rate, and assignment tracking.
- Integrations: Integrating your platform with other 3rd party apps helps you streamline your platform. For example, integrating with Microsoft Office Suite means that there is a tool for any action and file on the platform. EducateMe is a great platform with many relevant integrations, such as Video conferencing software.
This is a general-purpose group for people with shared interests in a particular field or topic. The main feature is to keep the membership active and to participate in discussions.
- Membership Directory: keeps records of members and allows members to find each other. The directory boosts members' interaction and helps admins search or check a member’s profile. The member directory should contain details, including the member's interests and his level of participation in the forum.
- Member rankings: You must encourage members to be active and contribute more to the platform if you want the community to grow. Use a trust system to recognize and reward the most active participants. An example of a platform with a trust system is Discourse.
- Group feeds: What drives community forums is the engagement of members with each other on the platform. Group feeds provide discussion and topics for members to contribute.
- Content page: this page displays what the group is about and the topics for discussion. Threads are categorized here for easy reference by new members.
- Forums: provides a safe space for members to discuss trending topics. A member can be anonymous or visible on membership forums.
- Security: For online membership communities, one security model is spam filters. Spam detection and removal keep the platform safe and keeps discussions relevant. Members must be safe to participate without the fear of lacking their information, especially for more private groups. Vanilla forums and Discourse have anti-spamming tools to protect your online community.
Online communities here are built around a brand, and consumers of the brand's products make up the community. It provides a quick way for the brand to interact with its customers and to get needed feedback to improve its products.
- User-generated content: A benefit here is that you don’t have to create topics yourself. The users supply suggestions and knowledge, and you enjoy different perspectives on their experiences of your products. Vanilla forums is an example of this kind of platform.
- Responsive design: A Mobile-activated community offers the chance to draw in more members who can connect anywhere and anytime. It is, therefore, imperative to ensure that your online community can work across all platforms. Mighty Network is a platform that works across desktop and mobile platforms.
- Data Analytics: For brand-based communities to thrive, you need relevant data to help you with reporting on the website. A key benefit of Data Analytics is automated and comprehensive key data, which helps you accurately gauge the platform's health. Lithium is a great platform to monitor social media engagement.
- Notifications: members are informed of the latest brand releases and trends and invited to contribute. Be careful not to overload users with too many notifications. Instead, send notifications on topics that are of interest to users. Huddle has great notifications to keep members updated on the latest trends.
- Personalized content: A member doesn't have to see all the content, just the one tailored to his needs. Personalized content is a vital marketing tool. A study showed that 80% of consumers purchased from brands that provided personalized experiences.
Adopting a community-based model is a sure way to create awareness for your brand. A forum-like learning platform provides students with a fun and engaging learning experience. You get to know the learners' expectations and how to make the platform more enjoyable for them.
EducateMe provides you with all the building tools to make your website more interactive and interesting. With all the needed integrations and real-time reporting on your learning platform, your course creation and management are easier and simpler on the EducateMe platform.