The Ideal Online Learning Environment

Over the past decade I’ve been experimenting with what online learning could (and maybe even should) look like.

Here I’d like to share the combination of elements that I’ve found to be the best fit, both for those who are creating educational experiences and for those who are participating in them.

The Two Components

The two core components of a transformative online learning space are courses and community.

The blending together of online courses and community elements creates the environment that will help students to thrive.

Online courses provide a structured experience that folks can work through on their own time, at the own pace, as they build specific skills.

By adding community elements into the mix, you give people the opportunity to learn from others who are on a similar journey. Often it’s an insight from a fellow learner (not the teacher) that will provide the spark that will help a student continue making progress.

The Travel Analogy

The help explain why I find the combination of courses and community to work so well, let me bring in the analogy of traveling somewhere you’ve never been.

What the courses represent are the map to that new place:

Online courses serve as a map to a new set of skills, helping learners find their way and avoid major pitfalls.

That map helps the student understand where they are and where they’re going, and points out places of interest, traps to avoid, and locations where you might want to spend a bit of extra time exploring.

The purpose of a map is to help you navigate new terrain, and that’s precisely what online courses do as well.

The community elements are akin to the people you meet along the way:

Community elements allow participants to connect with others on a similar journey, to share lessons learned and keep each other motivated.

Some of those people you meet will be tourists like you (new to the place, new to the skillset) who you can share first impressions with. Others will be local (folks with more experience than you) who can answer your questions and point you in a helpful direction.

Simply spending time with other human beings who are interested in the same topics and skills as you will add momentum to your journey as a lifelong learner.

An Online Learning Environment for Sketchnoters

To get a picture of what the combination of courses and community elements looks like in action, I’ll share what I’ve built into Verbal to Visual, a space for folks who want to master the skill of sketchnoting.

Let’s start with the courses.

Within Verbal to Visual you’ll find eight courses right now, all geared toward helping you master the skill of sketchnoting for use as a learning, problem-solving, and storytelling tool.

Inside of Verbal to Visual you’ll find eight courses right now. Here’s a quick rundown of each:

My goal is for that collection of courses to support you along your entire sketchnoting journey, starting with the basics and then taking your skills in whatever direction supports the life that you imagine for yourself.

I also want to highlight four community elements that support (and supplement) what folks are learning inside of those courses.

Community elements like weekly workshops, polls and prompts, plus forums to share your work round out the learning experience.

These elements round out the learning experience by providing opportunities to connect with others on a similar journey:

  • Wednesday Workshops – Weekly live webinars to do a deep dive on a particular sketchnoting topic.
  • Share Your Sketchnotes – A forum for you to share your latest sketchnoting work, either to celebrate its completion or to ask for specific feedback.
  • Monday Momentum – Weekly poll or prompt to get you thinking about a specific aspect of sketchnoting and hear how other community members approach that issue.
  • Q & A – A forum for you to share questions and get input from other sketchnoters as you develop and use your skills.

Those opportunities to share what you’re working on and interact with other sketchnoters will spark ideas and give you the extra boost you need to continue developing and using your sketchnoting skills.


I hope that breakdown helps you to think through what online learning experiences you might seek out as a student, and also that you might create as an educator.

The platform that I’ve found to provide the best experience for blending courses and community is called Mighty Networks.

Their Community Design program in particular helped me to shape the community elements that I described above.

After sharing a video of my sketchnotes from that program, they asked me to make a video for their channel too!

Note that the link to Mighty Networks above is an affiliate link, which means if you follow it and decide to sign up, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.

Start Taking Visual Notes

If you’re interested in developing your sketchnoting skills and would like to see that combination of course and community elements in action, then come join us inside of Verbal to Visual.

There you’ll find complete-at-your-own-pace online courses, weekly live workshops, and a global community of visual thinkers working to master the skill of sketchnoting.

You can learn more here.