Continuous learning—gaining new skills and honing old ones—has long been an essential component of business success. However, not every organization has always put sufficient resources towards it. For one thing, training doesn’t always have a set, measurable financial value to it. In other words, while it’s important in the long run, it isn’t typically an activity for which you can see the direct, lateral pay-off in an immediate fashion.
But in many ways, with technology moving at breakneck speed and with the rise of remote work, training is more valuable than ever before. Not all learning is created equal, and just as there’s no one-size-fits-all type of learning for every organization, the same goes for individuals.
Collaborative learning is a method and approach that can help individuals and organizations across industries. Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product.
The benefits of collaborative learning
Learning can take myriad forms, and not everyone learns the same way. Some people can read a book or an instruction manual and understand how something needs to be done. Others might have to learn by actually trying it out—learning by doing. And still others learn better by learning from one another as peers share their experience and best practices.
As a business leader or manager, there are many opportunities to use collaborative learning to help your employees improve their skills or gain new ones—and ultimately help the organization overall in the long run.
Fostering a culture of collaborative learning promotes open knowledge sharing among employees. Not only does collective information get shared with the greater organization, but it also helps usher in more cohesion, improved relationships, and a deeper sense of cooperation. It also enables everyone to play a role.
In his book Learning in Action, David A. Garvin asserts that a collaborative learning environment gives employees opportunities to share information and learn from one another without boundaries, speeding the pace of organizational learning and engendering more organizational flexibility. This kind of learning can help support work relationships and help to get rid of duplication of mistakes, as well as the perceived need to start from scratch when the needed information already exists. He goes on to say that organizations stand to gain strategic benefits from collaborative learning, as well.
Fostering a collaborative learning culture
It’s clear that a collaborative learning environment is important, but how do you actually go about building one?
First, you must understand people and their skill sets. Think back to group projects in school. There was always that one student who slacked off or didn’t seem to bring much to the project—and there was often someone else who’d rise up to take charge. Similarly, these types of roles play out in the workplace and in group projects (though let’s hope no one is slacking off entirely).
As a manager, your ability to read and understand people is important. You can group people together in working teams based on their individual strengths and how they fit together.
Collaboration and communication form a distinct set of skills; in fact, industry analysts say these are two of the most important qualities you should be looking for when both hiring and training employees.
Second, you need the right tools. Otherwise, building this type of culture can be extremely difficult. With more and more learning moving online, much of it has often been left up to individuals to work through at their own pace. But with the rapid adoption of collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams and others, collaboration is now much easier. These tools allow for more interaction through features like video calls, whiteboarding, chat, and more.
Removing the barriers
Compulsory training can put undue pressure on employees, who might feel like it’s just one more thing they have to fit into their busy workday—especially if they feel like aren’t being given time to take part in it.
That’s one of the biggest hindrances—and one of the biggest challenges managers must address: How do you encourage employees to take part in and be engaged in collaborative learning? How do you make it feel less like a chore and ensure employee growth?
Compelling content is one major factor; nobody wants to sift through a bunch of boring material. If the content you’re using isn’t engaging, employees aren’t going to benefit from it. Another major factor is getting employees to work together. This goes back to thinking strategically about the teams you’re putting together. If you’re tasking a group of employees with a specific goal for which they need training, it’s important to consider the strengths of each member of the team.
Building learning success
Corporate learning, if done wrong, can end up being a monotonous box to check within a workday schedule. By creating a learning strategy that is collaborative, the virtual classroom can turn employee learning into an engaging experience. Collaboration is important for corporate learning because it combines the best aspects of diverse employee experience and strengths to produce stronger skill sets and better communication. This provides a strategic advantage to the organization. The result is employees with stronger skill sets and better communication, and that provides a strategic advantage to the organization. Use the collaborative features within your learning platform and the best practices noted above to create a strong, strategic, collaborative learning culture.