Collaborative virtual learning environment
Training & Learning

Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Create a Collaborative Virtual Learning Environment

The shift to hybrid working has revolutionized the way we interact, work, and learn. While the benefits for both employees and organisations are clear–improved well-being, increased productivity, and more flexibility–the transition does present challenges. Organisations need to adapt to new strategies, technology, and resources, as well as generate new ways to keep employees engaged and motivated. 

So, how does this revolution impact L&D leaders? How can you design experiences to make your learners sit up and pay attention at home and in the office? Adopting a collaborative virtual learning approach is one such method that gives people the space they need to learn and grow in their job roles and is a critical component of retaining employees. 

In this article, we explore what collaborative virtual learning is, identify tools and technologies that can help you execute it, and offer guidance on collaborative learning and the strategies to engage your remote employees.

What is a collaborative virtual learning environment?

Collaborative virtual learning environments aim to produce technology-based learning processes where participants can work together as a group to construct and share knowledge. As many employees continue to work remotely, many L&D teams have fully transitioned to creating virtual learning environments (VLEs) to carry out the majority of employee training programmes. 

While collaborative virtual learning is a versatile and flexible approach, it can be difficult to monitor and measure engagement amongst distributed teams. With this in mind, L&D teams need the right methods and tools to ensure success. From effective communication to timely feedback, employees need to be able to collaborate together to learn effectively and stay engaged. 

So, what virtual learning tools and technologies are available to L&D teams to drive better engagement and learning outcomes?

Looking for more tips on how to increase employee engagement? Check out our cheat sheet: 5 Secrets to Keep your Teams Engaged in the World of Hybrid Work

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The 3 most effective virtual learning tools and technologies

L&D teams need to be equipped with the proper tools and technology to create an effective collaborative virtual learning environment which adds value to both learners and organisations alike. Here, we explore what those best technologies are, and how you can utilise them to boost learner engagement and retention.

1. Learning management systems (LMS)

Learning management systems are the foundation of online and virtual learning. An LMS is the platform you need to create and distribute courses and manage your learning programmes at scale. 

The benefits of an LMS include better ROI on training programmes, increased learner engagement and knowledge retention, and greater employee retention. Some of the most common use cases for an LMS are onboarding, technology upskilling, sales enablement, compliance training, and customer training. 

Collaborative learning platforms are a new breed of online learning software that decentralizes the learning process to create a more democratic virtual learning environment. While traditional LMSs put the onus of course creation on the L&D department, collaborative learning platforms make it possible for anyone in the company to create learning content. If you want to invest in a collaborative learning platform, be sure to look for features such as discussion forums and reaction scores to increase collaboration and engagement.

2. Webinars

Alongside self-paced training courses found in your LMS, webinars are an effective way to obtain information or expertise on a topic, whilst giving learners the opportunity to comment or ask questions in real-time. Webinars have the flexibility to be carried out cost-efficiently for both small and large audiences. Having a platform to conduct virtual learning sessions is crucial in enabling group participation as part of a blended learning programme. 

Platforms like Zoom and Livestorm are great for boosting engagement, particularly as they have features such as chat and poll functions, pre and post surveys, and break-out rooms which allow smaller groups of people to collaborate and share knowledge.

3. Project management tools 

For L&D teams, bringing people from different teams together when building a training programme can become a challenge. With many tasks, deadlines, and documentation to manage, keeping track of progress can become difficult. 

Project management tools such as Trello can lead to more manageable and defined processes, allowing smoother progress on a project. In addition, a reliable project management tool offers the team quick access to documents, data, or other information and allows for transparency. 

We’ve addressed the tools and technology you need to make virtual learning successful, but what best practices should L&D teams follow to create a collaborative learning environment where employees can learn from each other? 

Related: What are Learning Management Systems, and How do you Choose One?

1. Don’t think physical vs. digital; think synchronous vs. asynchronous 

Traditional blended learning focused on finding the right mix between physical in-person classroom training and virtual learning. But in 2022, this split no longer makes sense. Instead of thinking physical vs. digital, we have to start thinking synchronous vs. asynchronous.

You need to offer the right mixture of synchronous, online sessions (like breakout rooms or collaborative workshops) and asynchronous activities learners can complete whenever suits them (like quizzes, quick reads, or videos). This way, you can offer learning experiences to match the way we live now, helping people to stay engaged and motivated.

2. Take advantage of break-out rooms to increase synchronous participation

In an in-person setting, it’s easier to hold sessions with a large audience. In a remote setting, the dynamics are completely different. To ensure maximum collaboration and that all participant's inputs are acknowledged, try to stick to having no more than 4-5 members in one group. 

This is when break-out rooms can be really effective because it allows you to broadcast top-level information and instructions to a wider audience, whilst allowing greater participation and interaction to occur in the smaller groups.

3. Define goals and deadlines

To make your collaborative learning experience stand out, make sure to define procured goals and objectives for each element of the training programme. When you put forth expectations for each one of them, they become more dedicated and focused on achieving their goals, and as a result increase engagement.

4. Consider timings for your training sessions

Remember: a full day of in-person training does not equal a full day of online synchronous training. Zoom fatigue is real, and you can’t expect learners to stay engaged in front of their screens for the same length of time. So mix things up, and keep your content fresh.

5. Add visuals to your content 

When you introduce and train your employees on a new topic, you need to find new ways of keeping people’s attention, especially in a virtual learning environment when it’s easy to lose interest. 

Introduce visual elements to your virtual learning experiences like images, Infographics, and videos to create content that is easy to take in and fun to consume.

6. Leverage subject-matter experts in building effective VLEs 

Collaborating with subject-matter experts (SMEs) can help L&D teams build great learning experiences. Through these partnerships, you and your team can co-create and develop engaging content that matches the needs of your learners. 

To establish a relationship with your SMEs first identify the subject-matter expertise that exists within the organisation, identify the SMEs with those demonstrated skills and set clear expectations on what’s required. This sets a good basis for a long-term partnership where subject-matter experts are recognised for their contribution to training learners within the organisation.

Related: L&D Collective Recap: 10 Pro Tips From Our Learning Community on Engaging Subject-Matter Experts

The role of collaborative VLE in upskilling for the jobs of tomorrow

A collaborative virtual learning environment is essential to fast, continuous upskilling for the jobs of today and tomorrow. By investing in the right tools and technology and following best practices, L&D teams can create a VLE that adds value across the organisation, demonstrates better learning outcomes, and helps increase learner engagement and participation.