Education, growth, and development come in a variety of different forms.
The world is full of different learning styles, from people who are more likely to retain information via visuals, to those who prefer kinaesthetic lessons. Since learning is something we continue to do as we proceed through life, it’s important to find a strategy that works well for us.
In the new digitally distributed business world, companies are experimenting with a form of learning that champions better peer-to-peer support. Collaborative learning is a type of education that brings people together to support continued development.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Collaborative Learning?
Collaborative learning is a solution to the common problems business leaders face with achieving commitment, buy-in, and engagement from professional learners. Course completion rates for professional training are currently only around 20-30%.
While there could be many reasons for this low percentage, one of the main ones is simply that there are too many competing demands on teams today. Particularly in the age of remote working, people don’t have time to sit and learn in a conventional fashion.
Collaborative learning is a training strategy which asks employees or students to share expertise and knowledge. The peer-to-peer format means that people can learn from each other, rather than waiting for the creation of traditional instructor-led courses.
Part of a growing trend towards more independence and autonomy among employees, collaborative learning avoids the standard top-down management style. As people continue to work in teams, collaborative learning supports learning in teams too.
The Benefits of Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning is a fast, impact-driven strategy for growth. Where traditional learning is top-down, collaborative learning allows anyone in a team to share knowledge and meet a training need. This ensures that everyone in the company can empower the learning process. Employees get to suggest training requirements, and other employees suggest solutions to fulfil those needs.
Research shows that the best educational experiences are social, active, contextual, and engaging. Student-owned learning creates deeper learning opportunities, with a higher development of oral communication, leadership, and self-management skills, and improved promotion of student interaction. Some benefits include:
- Relevancy: Collaborative learning courses are created by fellow team members to respond to a pre-established need in the business. These classes are specific to what employees really need in the moment, ensuring that issues and roadblocks are overcome more rapidly.
- Company culture: Collaborative learning, just like any collaborative process, promotes deeper interactions between professionals, and greater company bonding. One of the biggest contributors to lack of engagement and commitment in a company is a poor business culture, collaborative learning can solve this problem.
- Speed: With traditional learning, employees would need to wait for the right training opportunity to be recognized and created for them. With collaborative learning, everyone gets to contribute their own expertise to serve the needs currently present in the organization.
- Time saving: For managers and business leaders, collaborative learning removes the strain of having to ensure that support is always available from a specific person. Collaborative learning allows business leaders to focus on tasks for growing the business, while employees contribute to their own development.
- Impact driven: Many traditional learning programs are deliverable driven, whereas collaborative learning looks at the impact training can have over time. In most L&D departments, success is evident by the number of courses completed, collaborative learning allows courses to develop based on employee feedback.
Collaborative Learning Theory
There are various theories about collaborative learning and how it works. The main concept overall is that all kinds of learning is a naturally social act. Learning occurs through talking and solving problems with peers.
Lev Vygotsky’s collaborative learning theory emphasizes the importance of social interaction for cognition and learning opportunities. Lev believed that community was important in the process of developing knowledge. According to Vygotsky’s sociocultural viewpoint, individual development can’t happen without social input. Vygotsky theorized the zone of proximal development, which suggests visualizing what people can and can’t do as zones. Between the two zones is a third space for proximal development. This includes what a person can learn with the right guidance.
Vygotsky also developed a concept of the more knowledgeable other, which is the person with the expertise or experience a learner needs. In a collaborative dialogue, the learner seeks knowledge and internalizes the information by the more knowledgeable other.
Jean Piaget also set out theories about collaborative learning based on how children understand the world. He stated that children construct an understanding of the world around them, experience discrepancies between their experiences and understanding, and correct those discrepancies through the recognition of mental processes.
Piaget’s concept of “schemas”, or units of knowledge, says that some of our behaviors are innate and natural, and others are acquired over time, through experience. As children develop, they use their schemata to process the world around them. Children need equilibrium to take new information into their schemata. The process of assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge require active learners who interact with social and physical environments.
Piaget further presented a four-stage development process, which believed must take place for learning to commence. Piaget believed that children drive their own development, whereas Vygotsky believed that social interactions where available.
Collaborative Learning Activities
There are various ways companies can foster collaborative learning and growth in a company. The key to success with these strategies is allowing employees to learn from each other and share their education with their peers. For instance, business leaders can:
1. Evaluate current training systems
Within your current departments or teams, pair new employees with more senior ones to automatically pave the way for peer-to-peer learning. You can have employees work together this way to evaluate the training systems currently place and recommend solutions to potential problems. Mentors who have been in the business for a longer time can offer insights into how operations work, while newer employees can bring in fresh perspectives.
2. Solve Problems Across Teams
Combine teams to present them with crucial problems to solve. This is an excellent way to bring minds together to develop features for new products, institute new training programs, or outline growth opportunities for the company. Make sure you outline the kind of goals you’re trying to achieve, and then allow the teams to work together. At the end, they can present what they’ve come up with together, and justify their reasoning.
3. Developing New Products
Collaborative learning can be a massive asset. Teams work together to identify relevant niches, create product concepts, brainstorm solutions, and more. After presenting the products, the teams can work together to identify relevant niches, brainstorm solutions, and create product concepts. Question and answer sessions are often useful for this kind of
4. Cross-departmental education
Departmental teams can easily become siloed in a business environment. Although you might think this is okay, the reality is that everyone should be able to understand each other. Departmental teams can create presentations which teach work ideas to other departments. The expert in this case should present the kind of work they do, the problems they solve, and more.
Other departments will participate in question-and-answer sessions to learn more about the key skills and tasks that often take place in that environment.
5. Build a Collaborative Learning Culture
Company culture is a term that appears frequently in the modern business landscape, but it’s something that many people don’t have much insight into. A collaborative learning culture could be an excellent design to aim for. In this environment, an organization prioritizes open communication and gives individuals opportunities to learn from and teach their colleagues.
A company with a collaborative learning culture connects people on a massive scale. Good examples of collaborative learning activities include clear goals, instructions, regularly connecting groups, and more, so groups can experiment and work on new skills constantly.
Best Collaborative Learning Services
As collaborative learning opportunities evolve, the services and software available to support this kind of education are growing. Some are more feature-rich than others. For instance, some of the most popular options include:
360Learning is a Learning Management system committed to igniting growth within a collaborative environment. The platform combines collaborative tools with the LMS environment to encourage improved interaction between team members. Learning360 makes it quick and easy to create courses, with the option for anyone in your team to design their own subject-matter course.
There’s also a host of ways for people to collaborate and communicate, including peer-to-peer chat, feedback, and various alternatives. As your employees move through their collaborative learning experience, business leaders also get the opportunity to track their performance and examine potential outcomes over time.
Unlike 360Learning, Prezi isn’t a fully featured learning solution complete with things like learning management, and analytics. However, it does give your employees a chance to come together and create presentations that might teach other members of staff about what they do. This powerful slideshow creation solution is easy to use, with tons of guidance to help you get started.
Unlike standard screen sharing solutions, Prezi also allows you to present your courses and ideas onscreen. This is great if you want your employees to be able to talk their learners through different concepts on a step-by-step basis.
3. Google Workspace
Though not specifically designed as a collaborative learning tool, Google Workspace still aims to give groups a better way to learn in tandem, with the help of synced tools like docs, sheets, and slides. You can create all kinds of learning tools and resources within the Google environment, and use them to enlighten and empower students in the digital workforce. People can even work together in real-time on the same document.
For remote and hybrid workers, Google workspace also comes with access to meeting and chat tools. This ensures that everyone can stay connected in the same aligned virtual space.
Collaborative learning examples
Collaborative learning platforms are tools that allow businesses to stay agile and invest in continuous growth. With a learning platform that leverages collaborative learning, you can keep team members updated about changes in courses in a matter of seconds and keep track of the requested courses and educational opportunities users need.
As we saw in 2020, the needs and goals of an organization can easily change overnight. The pandemic suddenly pushed the world to transition into a new age of remote work. Employees had to learn new workflows and adopt technology with zero prep or planning time.
In traditional environments, the switch to a digital environment would be enhanced by the availability of Learning and Development solutions. However, most learning platforms don’t support quick course production. This means that it can take months to deliver any kind of training. On top of that, there are expenses to consider.
Collaborative learning, on the other hand, allows anyone to create effective course and learning materials in minutes. Anyone in the company can quickly learn how to create courses, without the need of outside team members. This means that:
- Sales enablement teams can show off new product features
- Customer satisfaction teams can offer insights into customer experience
- Accounting teams can show new tips for submitting reports
- Educators and authors can get quick feedback on courses
- People can make requests based on courses they want to receive
This accessibility opens the door for a new selection of exciting training possibilities that grow according to the needs of your organization. You can still create comprehensive learning paths and onboarding courses, but you can also implement smaller courses that respond to the changes of the environment and roll them out instantly.
Collaborative Learning Techniques and Applications
Collaborative learning (not to be confused with cooperative learning) is all about giving small groups and teams in your organization the tools they need for constant, active learning. Rather than focusing on group work specifically, collaborative learning teaches problem-solving and critical thinking skills by allowing teams to create and share their courses for group learning.
Group members from any sector can deliver their own version of higher education to fellow employees and add to your overall course material. This educational approach reduces the need for regular face-to-face mentoring and learning experiences. Techniques can include everything from sharing slideshows and presentations to providing insights into group projects.
People can teach leadership skills through videos, and learning strategies can be introduced with access to a range of new materials and resources, with insights from the real-world. The applications can include:
- Building a more flexible workforce: Collaborative student learning allows people to learn new processes and products quickly. It’s easier to create training programs, making it easier for departments to adapt without regular group discussions. Agility is crucial in today’s environment, where the marketplace continues to change at an incredible rate. Companies need to adapt rapidly, which often means sharing insights and information from various parts of the team with other entities in the workforce.
- Improve active learning and engagement: A collaborative learning environment doesn’t turn a business into a high school, but it does bring learning into the heart of the company, so that everyone can focus on continued development. Employees have a more involved learning experience when they contribute to the peer-generated course environment. Collaborative learning also improves employee engagement. With a collaborative learning environment, learning groups can see how their own learning and the insights they contribute have an impact on real life.
- Enhance company culture: Company culture is more than just a buzzword these days. The right culture is crucial to keeping teams engaged. Collaborative learning delivers more investment from stakeholders in learning processes and pushes team members to work on their thinking skills. When everyone works together to make the team more effective, it’s easy to see huge results fast.
Collaborative Learning vs Cooperative Learning
One of the most common mistakes made by people learning about collaborative learning, is using the term interchangeably with cooperative learning. Collaborative and collaborative learning both have an impact on the way students work, the sense of interdependence in the workplace, and the company culture. However, these are two very different kinds of learning.
In cooperative learning, participants work in groups, taking on the role of facilitator in their own success, and in the success of the group as a whole. Cooperative learning requires groups of students to use the strengths and weaknesses of each other at a higher level to accomplish their goals. Students use their resources and knowledge to ensure all team members understand what they’re doing.
Discussed by people like Slavin in the educational environment, Cooperative learning is an umbrella term referring to the teamwork required for the development of decision-making processes. Cooperative learning is often likened to the crew of a ship or the cast of a theatre production, where everyone has their own crucial roles, but each person needs to support the rest of the team.
Created by people like Macgregor, J, and Andy Goodsell, collaborative learning takes a slightly different approach in the business edu and further education environment. In collaborative learning, teams also have to make a joint intellectual effort to ensure their colleagues succeeds. The roles, resources, and organizational structure is up to them, and there’s no director to administer engagement rules.
Collaborative learning groups develop their interpersonal skills and social skills by sharing their expertise with others. Both collaborative and cooperative learning can assist in maintaining student retention and are often recommended by groups like the national center on postsecondary teaching, learning and development.
Is Collaborative Learning a Good Idea?
Collaborative learning is just one example of the many ways that people can develop their skills in an educational or professional environment. By considering the needs of the team and the skills of the individual, companies can encourage people to take more control of their learning opportunities.
While some people will benefit significantly from collaborative learning, others may perform better with different teaching experiences to explore. Good luck finding the learning solution that works for your team.