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Social spontaneity in online learning communities

Before being in the press for contested reasons, Houseparty was an overnight sensation. Millions gathered spontaneously with their friends to carry out their usual social activities on the app. Can we replicate this spontaneity in online learning communities?

Social spontaneity in online learning communities

Last year, Houseparty went from being a languishing social media brand to one of the most downloaded apps in the world.

As millions of people stayed at home to curb the spread of the virus, Houseparty became an overnight sensation.

Houseparty was successful because it bought the free-flowing, ad hoc communication between people online.

Forget the calendar invite. Just jump into a conversation.

The lockdown highlighted the importance of social spontaneity. Scheduled Zoom calls, Slack threads, and emails chains can’t replicate the serendipity of chance encounters.

In the office, it’s having a random chat with a co-worker while making a cup of coffee or commenting aloud about something funny you found on the internet.

At parties, it’s dropping in to chat with a group of people because you know one of them or overhear something interesting.

Online learning communities desperately need an element of social spontaneity injected into them.

Houseparty was spontaneous from the moment you opened the app. With no interaction, the app would notify your contacts via a push notification that you were now available to chat.

It gave you a way to publish your availability to talk automatically.

In reality, social spontaneity works in the same way. You’re entering situations where you don’t want to talk to anyone specifically, but you’re open to speaking to anybody.

Opening Houseparty at the height of the pandemic mirrored this feeling. It signalled an intent of availability to your entire network.

But as the popularity of the app grew, your contact list grew in tandem. Inevitably, this introduces different domains of contacts, such as friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. You might only want to notify a particular group of people of your availability. Fortunately, Houseparty had a more traditional approach to user presence, with the ability to “sneak into the house” without notifying anybody.

As online learning communities become more intimate with the rise of cohort-based courses, social spontaneity becomes more important to everyone.

Let’s clarify something before progressing. There are two types of social networks:

  1. Explicit: you explicitly decide what to post and who to follow (e.g. Instagram or Twitter).
  2. Implicit: you automatically post to your social network (e.g. location, the music you are listening to, achievements made). Other users can be visible as proxies to access new, engaging content.

There is currently too much dependency on the explicit social network model in online learning communities.

As a result, this creates an information asymmetry problem. A user might not be aware of the other members of their wider community, which can add value to their learning experience.

To fix this, we could combine the social spontaneity (e.g. auto-publishing presence, status, domain expertise) of implicit social networks with the trust and confidence which is inherent in the friendships made on explicit social networks.

We can ensure online-first education remains a preferred mode of pedagogy and comprehension in a post-pandemic world.

For it not to become a backup again, it needs to become better at replicating the social spontaneity of college, a book club, or group class.

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Isenberg, G., 2021. Social Media Predictions for 2021. [online] Late Checkout. Available at: [Accessed 19 March 2021].

Isenberg, G., 2021. The Unbundling of Udemy. [online] Late Checkout. Available at: [Accessed 19 March 2021].

Serna, J., 2017. The big thing about Houseparty is not video. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 19 March 2021].