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Build spaced repetition into your community

August 11, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
Build spaced repetition into your community
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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What is spaced repetition?

In self development and productivity circles, spaced repetition is a popular approach to learning.

Spaced repetition is an evidence-based learning technique that is usually performed with flashcards. Newly introduced and more difficult flashcards are shown more frequently, while older and less difficult flashcards are shown less frequently in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

Source: Wikipedia

There are lots of tools that enable spaced repetition. The Kindle has Flashcards, and you only need to do a quick search on the app stores to find countless apps catering towards spaced repetition. Typically it is associated with studying for exams, but really spaced repetition is about becoming better and knowledgeable about whatever it is you are looking to master through regular and carefully timed revisiting on content.

Now, despite good intentions, I’ve never implemented spaced repetition properly into my daily life. It feels like one of those habits that you know will do you good and one that will help you learn and reach your goals. I think we all know creating new, positive and healthy habits is not always an easy thing.

But what if we could do this through our community strategy? Can you imagine building in a spaced repetition philosophy to help your whole community become better? And what if we could do this without them even realizing?

This whole idea came to me during a brainstorming session with Simon Tomes. It partly came up because of me knowing about spaced repetition. However, I quickly realized that in the past I had kind of used the philosophies of spaced repetition in building up previous communities.

How can we use spaced repetition as a model for building community?

At the core of spaced repetition is the idea of actively re-sharing important information to help you remember, progress, and learn. This cycle of re-sharing and reminding can be used to reinforce the things that are important to us within our communities.

We could take it from the perspective of communities of product, practice or play.

  • For a community of play we may choose to reinforce our norms and culture.
  • For a community of practice we may decide it is important to reinforce and evolve ideas around key industry trends.
  • For a community of product our choices may be around educating our community on new product features.

We can use the mental model of spaced repetition to apply this creatively in communities.

Let's look at this from the lens of a community event

Often huge effort goes into creating great events, but all too often we focus only on the moment, and once they pass we dive into the next big thing. I think 99% of the events I attend fall into this category. They happen, attendees often get excited, but all quickly gets forgotten as we settle back into real life, or as the next shiny thing gets the attention.

However, if we took the mindset of 'community spaced repetition' then we would learn to see the event as part of the overall journey. To truly embrace community and create diversity we need to think about complementing the activities, learnings, and takeaways of events in other ways.

Here I present some ways that this could happen in real community life.

Before the event happens:

  • Identify trending themes
  • Create questions, discussions and debates
  • Test out interest by sharing educational information through social media
  • Host Twitter Spaces and other casual events
  • Take note of everything: what works, what doesn’t, and questions people are raising

During the event:

  • Take note of discussion points and questions
  • Create recordings
  • Share live snippets via social media
  • Create connection through the likes hashtags on social media or a chat channels

Create a consistent cadence of activities after the event:

  • Release recordings of the event
  • Write a summary of key learnings
  • Schedule Tweets based on key learnings
  • Host a post event watch party
  • Create discussions and forum posts on key learnings
  • Host a roundtable or live audio discussion with community members
  • Research the topic and highlight content from across the web
  • Ask questions on Twitter or any other channel you have a following on.
  • Gather all of the above into one source reference guide

But none of this is new

On their own, none of this is news. On the face of it, this is the hamster wheel of communities and content. As with all things community, the daily tasks by themselves don't look that much different than other aspects of running a community. The difference is the consistent cadence of activities combined with the vision behind the community. Bit by bit you are helping and reminding people of what is important.

Spaced repetition of community activities is so important in communities because it:

  • helps people remember you
  • will pull people in over time rather than hoping people are paying attention all at once
  • allows people to consume and contribute in many ways
  • helps surface contributions in a distributed way
  • creates opportunities to dive into depth — with themes and relationships

Explore and experiment with community spaced repetition

It looks easy to do, but to do it well it takes time and consistency. As with all things community, it is important to experiment. Community spaced repetition doesn't need to be done for all aspects within your community. The ROI may not always be there to do this for everything, but it's certainly worth exploring as part of your community strategy. You may choose to double down and do this for very specific or popular themes.

But overall, this approach can help build consistency across your programs, and to help continually educate and grow your community.

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Orbit helps grow and measure thousands of communities like Kubernetes and CircleCI. We're a remote-first company with a product-driven, empathetic engineering team that enjoys the occasional space pun! Check out our careers page for open opportunities.

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