Collaborative learning is an increasingly important approach to instructional design. It will be a novel idea for many in the L&D (learning and development) community. I recommend Collaborative Learning: How to Upskill From Within and Turn L&D Into Your Competitive Advantage by Nick Hernandez as an ideal starting point for instructional designers who seek to understand the nature and value of this concept.

Why has traditional L&D failed?

Hernandez begins with a review of the ways in which most L&D organizations fail to have critical discussions about improving their learning practices. The standard prescription is for L&D to select a learning platform, develop courses for their entire organization, and move on. This is a “set-and-forget” routine that persists even though it fails to support a healthy organization in the face of the profound changes taking place in the world since 2000. Instead, Hernandez claims that it results in high employee turnover, low employee engagement, missed opportunities, and sluggish competitiveness.

After tracing the decline in results from training and the connection to ineffective or badly designed and implemented knowledge and learning management systems, Hernandez moves on to consider the shift of managerial focus to upskilling.

Design practices require fundamental changes

Hernandez recommends making fundamental changes to the way that organizations facilitate and optimize learning, through a “bottom-up” approach. This begins with adopting the new generation of collaborative learning technologies and putting an organization’s real experts front and center in the creation of cross-departmental dialogues.

The transition is the subject of most of the book. “Collaborative learning is a bottom-up philosophy in a top-down world” is the way Hernandez describes the reality of the shift he advocates. He supports this approach with examples drawn from successful companies that have embraced the core tenets of collaborative learning. The approach used by these successful companies helped their teams to upskill from within.

A proven roadmap

In the second chapter of the book, Hernandez provides a collaborative learning blueprint for upskilling from within. The blueprint comes directly from a company that not only had to work out the details, but they also had to do it at breakneck speed. What they got was an onboarding and training process that works under challenging circumstances. The story is detailed in case studies of identified organizations, rather than on anonymous assertions.

The following chapters deal with objections that will be encountered in making the changes to culture, development of expertise, and other common obstacles. Hernandez also recognizes the issues arising when collaborative learning is seen as a “hot new L&D” trend, or as a threat to L&D.

The future of instructional design

Upskilling will continue to be a preoccupation and important objective for L&D practitioners for years if not decades. Similar to the challenges around dealing with artificial intelligence plans and policy, collaborative learning implementation will be an evolving and essential area of practice. It would be wise to begin raising awareness about the importance of collaborative learning. Nick Hernandez has provided an excellent roadmap, more about the view from 50,000 feet than the day-to-day plan, but essential for planning for success.