Collaborative Learning

What is collaborative learning and why your business needs it

Illustration of 360Learning social hub, where collaboration happens

In an age where jobs become obsolete in a matter of months, companies are scrambling to find talent, train employees, and share crucial knowledge to help teams grow.

Dedicated training departments used to offer a stable and well-architected training program. That framework made sense when jobs and the skills needed to succeed in each role were well-understood and defined. Today, the rapid pace of technology creates new jobs and makes others redundant every few years.

Newly created jobs often combine cross-domain and industry expertise instead of pure technical or management skills - for many, like customer success, marketing operations and product managers, there are no fixed educational paths from which to source talent.

According to the WEF, by 2022, "everyone will need an extra 101 days of learning."

Most corporate training efforts are struggling to keep up. Despite investing heavily in training their team to stay ahead, research shows that most companies have seriously fallen behind.

The business impact is real: organizations that define themselves as great places to learn achieve 23% greater financial returns, and endure business cycles far better than their competitors. This is the opportunity for today; companies that figure this out will outperform, out-innovate, and out-execute their competitors. So the million dollar question is: how can hyper-growth companies build organizations that encourage continuous learning that is both effective and scalable?

Corporate Training vs. Collaborative Learning

Before we dive into collaborative learning, it helps to understand how most companies push corporate training to employees in a top-down manner - and how forward-thinking companies are facilitating collaborative learning in a bottom-up way:

Infographic on bottom up collaborative learning

There are no signs that the pace of change will slow - if anything, it’s accelerating - only companies who change the way knowledge is shared will thrive. Companies relying on a 20th century corporate training framework will not survive the 21st century pace of business.

What is Collaborative Learning?

In school, students learn faster when they study together because those who have figured it out can share how they did it.

Collaborative Learning redefines traditional student-teacher relationship in a classroom.

Contrary to the top-down student-teacher approach employed by most organizations today where employees non-interactively receive information, Collaborative Learning relies on bottom-up peer learning. Every team member is able to elevate and respond to requests (learning needs, knowledge gaps) for knowledge, so knowledge gaps are quickly identified and closed.

“Unlike individual learning, people engaged in collaborative learning capitalize on one another's resources and skills.” - Wikipedia

Illustration of employees collaborating to create courses in the company

Because learning material needs to ship quickly and stay relevant, Collaborative Learning is built around iterative training where by minimum viable courses are shipped quickly and improved constantly. Improvements come directly from peers who identify out-of-date content or suggest additions, or through feedback & data from their interactions within the course.

Courses always include evaluations, which provide an essential feedback loop as to whether the course was successful at enabling peers to answer the fundamental questions posed in an evaluation.

To keep teams focused on sharing and gaining knowledge, coaches facilitate peer learning both by ensuring that courses are easily accessible, actionable & impactful and by organizing Courses & programs into personalized paths to help them grow. Paths align employee aspirations with organization expectations.

By empowering people to share best practices, Collaborative Learning is the best way for high-growth companies to train and upskill employees and solve business problems.

How thriving companies are doing Collaborative Learning today

The concept itself is deeply rooted in our history and culture and is one of the main methods used in indigenous learning styles. Research has been done by psychologists and academics that show activities involving collaboration and sharing of ideas among students promote a deeper level of thought and create meaning for the learner.

According to Gokhale (1995), individuals are able to achieve higher levels of learning and retain more information when they work in a group rather than individually, this applies to both the facilitators of knowledge, the instructors, and the receivers of knowledge, the students.

Some forward-thinking companies have already started the shift to this new, bottom-up way of learning, despite a lack of company-wide tool or explicitly articulated structure.

A few examples:

  • Engineering teams running peer coding, doing post-mortems & organizing internal learning days on new technologies.
  • IT teams creating videos & walkthroughs explaining how to use new software or how to comply with new security requirements (SOC2)
  • Sales teams sharing best practices on Slack, including outbound videos, call recordings, GIFs & emails that worked particularly well.
  • Startup founders writing culture decks for new employees.

The Corporate Training Challenge

To understand the importance and value of collaborative learning, we must first take a look at prior developments of corporate training.

When it comes to corporate training, digital is the new norm: 98% of all companies plan to use online learning platforms in 2020.

With business cycles moving faster than ever before, shifting to online training makes a lot of sense. We can’t always force people to attend a physical workshop together at the same time. It also can’t scale. So we agree that learning has to be digital. In comes online learning.

Why corporate training fails

But while we got rid of the constraints of physical learning with online learning platforms, we also got rid of the learning experience that makes learning fun, and effective.

Most online learning platforms and training programs are top-down and one-way.

While it’s a hassle to get everyone in the same room at the same time, everyone being in the same room creates a learning experience that just isn’t quite the same as staring at your screen, watching an awkwardly animated mascot sharing information that might likely be outdated.

That’s what some would call, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If you can’t understand something the online teacher-mascot is saying, you can’t look around and wonder if everybody is as confused as you are.

It’s hard to feel motivated to keep going when you’re all alone, especially when what you’re watching isn’t necessarily Netflix-binge-worthy.

Basically, the precious human interactions and exchanges we get out of a classroom are completely neglected in traditional e-learning platforms.

Problems with top-down training

And it’s not just bad for the learner. It sucks for the teacher, too.

Imagine teaching a class in front of an empty classroom. That’s what creating content for a traditional e-learning platform feels like.

You spend hours preparing, crafting, and uploading your course. Then what? Radio silence. Is your course relevant? Boring? Amazing? No idea. You have no way to tell. This raises serious questions regarding the following areas:

  • Content quality & relevance: you have no idea which courses work or need work.
  • Learners’ engagement: you have no idea if your team actually went through the whole course.
  • Business impact: you have no way to tell if your training has made a difference in the way your team operates.

On top of getting no feedback to measure and improve training effectiveness, there are other limitations to the top-down online training approach that we often hear from our clients.

  • Courses get outdated quickly: The world moves fast. Courses get outdated within 6 months and take a lot of time and money to update.
  • Scalability: With centralized content creation, courses aren’t shipped fast enough to respond to business needs.
  • Expertise: Training and L&D teams can’t catch up with the vast amount of knowledge needed to cope with fast-changing landscapes in different domains.

No feedback + no interactions + no incentive = no learning :-(

Clearly, (online) learning needs to change. This is where collaborative learning comes in.

5 Ways Collaborative Learning Drive Growth

There are many ways your teams can benefit from collaborative learning. Here are the five biggest:

  1. Better knowledge retention: Online exercises that foster human interaction such as peer discussion, team problem solving, and group tutorials, allow the learner to apply the material learned while simultaneously gauging their level of comprehension through peer validation and feedback.

  2. Shorter feedback loops & up to date courses: Collaborative Learning creates more touchpoints between peers and their courses, and all that data gets fed to coaches and course creators who can identify and improve courses quickly.

  3. Higher accountability, higher engagement: In a Collaborative Learning environment, peers engage in a common task where team members depend on and are accountable to each other. This mutual sense of commitment results in more courses being created and completed.

  4. Reduce time to ship and improve courses: L&D teams can’t be agile enough to produce learning content quick enough to solve every business problem. As the task of knowledge sharing is decentralized, teaching materials are created and shared by more people and in shorter time spans. A real-time feedback loop also reduces the time to review and revise content. 360Learning customers have seen 40% reduction in the time needed to administer their online learning platform. Illustration of courses improved faster thanks to learners' feedback

  5. Scale learning across your organization: Dedicated training teams don’t necessarily have the right expertise to train every department. With collaborative learning, experts share their domain expertise, which means that every department can create courses based on the cumulative team knowledge. For example, sales expert answer sales objections, review evaluations, and make the sales training content more relevant for new salespeople. Courses are created to answer specific learner requests and therefore they are relevant by design.

You might be thinking, that all sounds brilliant, but what exactly does collaborative learning look like in my organization?

Key Elements of Collaborative Learning

As a SaaS platform, we understand the temptation to solving problems with features. Let’s just add an NPS survey at the end of a course and call it a day.

Luckily for you, things didn’t quite work out that way. A Collaborative Learning Platform is an immersive learning experience with the following elements:

  • Learning Experience: Learners learn from each other. Courses can be created by any team member in a few clicks. Everyone can leave feedback and help improve the content, in addition to expressing their learning needs to shape future courses.

  • Peer-driven: You probably saw that coming. Learners learn from each other. Courses can be created by any team member in a few clicks. And everyone can leave feedback and help improve the content.

  • Iterate with data: Real-time feedback loops and micro-evaluations help you track courses like a product manager. Optimize your courses and learning experience with data points for every step of the learning funnel.

  • Measurable Impact: Every course is tied to a desired outcome for the business. Plugging learning data into your CRM allows you to see, for example, how sales onboarding contributes to quota.

Illustration of the analytics on 360Learning

Who Should Drive Collaborative Learning?

Illustration of coaches, sharing their knowledge with other employees

Even though top-down corporate training doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for dedicated training departments in Collaborative Learning.

In fact, it’s more important than ever that there be a dedicated facilitator to hold the reins on the learning program. That’s the role of the coach.

Instead of chasing down topics, content & feedback, in a collaborative learning environment, coaches play a key role in facilitating collaborative learning. Coaches can include company leadership, your team manager or dedicated facilitators in your team (e.g: Sales enablement manager) or a dedicated training department (e.g: Learning & Development manager).

As a coach, your job is to facilitate an environment where learning can happen between peers.

Coaches perform two critical roles in collaborative learning:

  1. Creating a structure for learning program and monitoring peer-led course quality, and
  2. Consolidating content and courses into customized Paths

The former is accomplished by injecting their own in-house expertise around what makes a course effective into courses created and improved by peers. The later is accomplished by organizing courses into personalized sequences that balance the aspiration of each team member with the expectations of the organization.

Unlike dedicated training departments, coaches scale. As peers create more courses, coaches guide peers through their learning experience, ensuring that requests are responded to with courses, that courses are effective, and that learners are engaged & producing better results.

While peers are focused on learning, coaches monitor and communicate on the big picture of how learning is driving growth for the organization.

Moving Forward: Why Collaborative Learning Is the Future

We live in a knowledge economy. The pace of business moves as fast as information can travel: high-frequency trading, same-day delivery, the gig economy, billion-dollar API companies.

A company's ability to compete is entirely based on the speed with which its employees to share knowledge: onboarding new employees, developing leaders, sharing best practices, identifying knowledge gaps & in-house experts to share them.

This purveys every industry: startups onboarding as many new team members as there are employees each year, stores looking to provide consistent retail experiences across every location despite the heavy turnover, and everything in between.

Historically centralized, top-down training departments are being replaced by bottom-up learning, where team members share knowledge with each other to solve problems they are facing at work. The business impact is clearly defined by peers, the courses are relevant by design because it comes from an in-house expert, and the knowledge is accessible to anyone who can improve it over time as needed.

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Collaboration - Growth - Scale