Many L&D leaders agree that our common goal looking to the future is focusing on our upskilling programmes.
When it comes to our learning experiences, from critical thinking skills through to leadership skill programmes, online learning has a range of benefits. But it also has one major disadvantage: It can be very isolating.
Imagine a room full of employees, each watching the same training video alone at their desks. Then, they take a quiz to measure retention, move on with their day, and never engage with the material again. Is it cost-effective? Sure. Is it convenient? Definitely. But does it foster productive learning? Not really.
Compare that bleak scene to a real-life and in-person learning environment of people engaging in group work, sharing ideas with their peers, and teaching each other the skill sets they’ve mastered.
It’s not enough to upload training videos to the cloud and let employees watch them on their own time. The isolation of learning in a vacuum isn’t just psychologically difficult—it’s also ineffective for active learning.
Instead, we need to invest in collaborative learning activities and keep human social interaction as the focus of the online learning environment. We need to leverage learning styles that give employees a chance to learn with—and from—one another.
Science has shown that there are many benefits of collaborative learning for both employees and the organisation as a whole. Here are four benefits backed by science and psychology that highlight how collaborative learning is superior to traditional eLearning.
Let’s start with the most prominent benefit of collaborative learning: It’s more effective than traditional eLearning at helping people understand complex subjects.
Most organisations take a top-down approach to learning and development (L&D). Instructors directly impart knowledge to employees via video lectures, and employees passively absorb that information.
Collaborative learning redefines the learning process by putting learners in direct contact with one another. In this bottom-up peer learning process, team members capitalise on the knowledge base and skill sets of others to build shared learning experiences and upskill.
This shift leads to more effective learning because of something called Cognitive Load Theory. The cognitive load is your central processor. It’s your working memory, the information that’s at the forefront of your thoughts (as opposed to the information you’re not currently using, which is stored in your long-term memory).
Your cognitive load is limited, and it’s not hard to max out your capacity while trying to learn something particularly complex. When information overload occurs, your brain freezes like a computer running too many programmes, and learning or retaining anything is extremely difficult.
However, collaborative learning redistributes some of that load across the entire group. Kirschner (2018) states that collaborative learning helps teams form a collective working memory, which is more efficient than each group member holding all the information in their own head.
As a result, each individual has more capacity to process and retain new information. Moreover, collaborative learning also lessens the cognitive load of the instructor, as the pressure to share knowledge is distributed throughout the entire group and not solely on one person.
You can harness the benefits of collective memory by creating online learning exercises that require teamwork. Group discussions, peer reviews, and small group tutorials are all examples of collaborative learning methods that can help free up the cognitive load and aid more active learning.
Employees who passively take online courses rely on self-motivation to get through the content. While that’s enough for highly motivated employees, others may lag behind.
But nobody wants to let their team members down. Communal and cooperative learning motivates learners to work harder and help their teammates succeed. This is called Social Interdependence Theory: No individual can achieve their goals without the success of all group members. Basically, the group sinks or swims together.
Social interdependence leads to increased accountability in the learning process as each team member pushes others—and themselves—to engage with the course material. Nobody wants to be the one who drops the ball. And if someone does fall behind, their team members can encourage them to pick up the pace or help fill in knowledge gaps.
A good way to harness the power of social interdependence is to create incentives for groups that reach their goals. These could be as simple as including gamification elements in your learning processes. A National Institutes of Health study found that a sense of achievement was a more powerful self-regulatory motivator than any grading scale.
Creating positive social interdependence across the entire company is the responsibility of course creators, not just participants. A culture of coaching employs learning coaches who help team members create individualised learning paths and ensure employees’ learning goals align with their roles and the organisation's common goals.
Here’s how we incentivise quality course creation and interaction with a leaderboard of learning Champions. Team members earn achievements to rank higher through publishing courses, encouraging learners to complete courses, and getting positive reactions to their activities. An email is sent out periodically recognising the month’s Champions.
Across your organisation, you have people who are experts in a wide variety of subjects.
You undoubtedly have other people who are completely clueless about those same topics. Systematic collaborative learning can help you consolidate employees’ experiences and unique knowledge bases to strengthen the entire company.
Collaborative learning helps employees step beyond their Zone of Proximal Development. In a learning context, this is the distance between what someone can learn on their own and what they can learn with help from someone else.
In other words: There’s a limit to what you can teach yourself, but there is no limit to what other people can teach you. It might be very difficult for someone in the marketing department to teach themselves SQL using just a passive online resource. But what if one of the company’s programmers put together a quick course to help them with the basics?
The best way to facilitate this diversification is by decentralising content creation. Instead of L&D pumping out courses based on what they think employees want to learn, let the employees identify their learning needs. With 360Learning, anyone can request a course on any topic, and anyone else can be the “course champion” who creates the course.
A study by the Tehran University of Medical Sciences takes this a step further by asserting that the benefits of knowledge diversification extend beyond the material learned in the course itself. As people get to know one another and understand their coworkers’ unique strengths, you begin to see the development of learning communities that build on team members’ base knowledge—and amplify it.
A 2018 LinkedIn Study found that communication and collaboration are two of the most important soft skills employees can learn from L&D programmes. In fact, 92% of executives said soft skills are either equal to or more valuable than technical skills for employees company-wide.
With a good collaborative learning programme, you can help employees learn both occupational skills and social skills at the same time.
Researchers M. Laal and S. Ghodsi did a meta-analysis of hundreds of collaborative learning studies. They found that learning together led students to develop better problem-solving skills and built social skills like empathy and social understanding.
You can encourage these benefits by giving team members the opportunity for peer learning by creating their own online courses. Not only does handing the responsibility for course creation to group members increase the company’s knowledge base, but it also encourages employees to stretch their empathy and communication skills.
Creating and continuing to iterate on their own courses forces instructors to look at the material from a learner’s perspective. Feedback loops help instructors better understand their coworkers’ learning needs to continue to iterate stronger learning materials.
The result is not just better courses but team members who are better at conveying ideas and complex concepts.
You’ll need the right tools to build a collaborative learning culture within your organisation.
With 360Learning, anyone in your organisation can create an interactive course that ramps up employee retention and engagement. You can also leverage the AI-powered L&D sidekick Robyn to create those ultra personalised at pace.
Even more important than the right tools is the right mindset. As we go up against an uncertain future, employees are grappling with a lot of unknowns that can lead to stress and lack of focus.
Building community and fighting the feeling of isolation is more important now than ever. We’ll help you create a learning culture that strengthens individual learners and the entire team—and help you impact crucial business goals.