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Collaborative Learning: an intro

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Right now, organizations around the world are facing a crisis of learning. There are too many competing demands on your teams, and people don’t have the space they need to learn the way they want to.

This is more than just the COVID-19 pandemic and the pivot to remote working. It’s bigger than the ever-increasing expectations to get more done during the day, and average course completion rates of only 20-30%. L&D leaders everywhere are fighting a war for attention. Unfortunately, it’s a war they’re losing.

At the same time, organizations are being sold a series of flash-in-the-pan solutions to the problem of learning disengagement. But no matter how many times you try to re-skill your teams at the flip of a switch, guide learning with heavy and prescriptive LMS platforms, or shape your learning content with a Netflix-style algorithm, you’ll never get to the bottom of the problem. The fact is, the world is changing faster than ever before, and our learning methods - even these shiny new ones - are stuck in the past.

So, what’s the answer? How can we help people to lift their heads above the water and learn they way they want to? And how can we view learning not just as a requirement, but something to be celebrated?

We need to get people excited about learning again. Instead of setting a standard curriculum and measuring course completions, we need to connect people to each other, get out of the way, and let them grow together. Our collective subject-matter expertise is your greatest asset. All we need is a way to put it to work.

Years ago, when we began applying the Collaborative Learning methodology to organizational learning, we were looking for a way to help businesses share their internal expertise quickly and easily. We had no idea just how urgent and vital Collaborative Learning would become as the world began to face greater challenges in securing the attention and energy needed for impactful learning.

Now, we’re here to explore what Collaborative Learning is, and why it’s the answer to today’s crisis of learning.

What Is Collaborative Learning?

Collaborative Learning is a training methodology through which employees share their knowledge and expertise, teaching and learning from one another at the same time. Group learning enhances the training experience by capitalizing on each employee’s skills, ideas, and institutional knowledge.

Collaborative Learning is part of a larger trend toward collaborative work. Organizations are moving away from more hierarchal top-down management styles and toward low-authority, high-accountability models. Instead of individual project ownership, we’re relying more and more on group work to achieve outsized results.

In other words: We work in teams, so why wouldn’t we learn as a team?

Collaborative Learning helps companies stay nimble

With a learning platform that leverages Collaborative Learning, you can keep employees abreast of change by creating courses in minutes, not months. This lets your company quickly react to accelerating technology, industry disruption, and unpredictable world events.

How Collaborative Learning works

The problem: L&D can’t keep up with organizational change

Recent events have shown us that an organization’s priorities, goals, and infrastructure can change overnight. For example, in March and April of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced workers to transition suddenly to remote work. Employees had to learn new workflows and adopt new technology, with zero planning or prep time.

In an ideal world, L&D would have handled this transition by solving learning needs as they arose. However, most learning platforms don't allow for that. Producing even a single training course can take months, and L&D teams frequently rely on instructional designers to create courses. The entire process is admin-heavy and resource-intensive. Also, it's expensive.

This situation limits the role of L&D to conducting ad hoc training needs analysis and focusing on training needs that can be solved with third-party content or external trainers. Under the status quo, they aren’t prioritizing high-impact learning. Instead, they’re focusing only on their ability to deliver courses. This lack of focus on employee engagement is a big factor contributing to the war for attention.

The solution: easy course creation that anyone can master

The Collaborative Learning methodology makes it easier and more cost-effective to create and share subject-matter expertise. Anyone at the company can quickly learn how to make a course, with no outside help required. Sales Enablement can demo new product features. Customer Satisfaction can create a tutorial to help reps deal with a specific recurring issue. John in accounting can demonstrate the new procedure for submitting expense reports. All of these courses can be easily distributed, and course authors can get quick feedback from relevant stakeholders as they iterate and improve over time.

That accessibility opens the door for a whole new range of training possibilities, and allows people to create the kinds of courses they’d like to take themselves. You can still create comprehensive onboarding courses and set learning paths. But you can also develop micro-courses that are relevant to only a single department or even a solitary position. You can create courses that address temporary changes, even if they’re only applicable for a month or even a week. You can roll out urgent content quickly and update it later to reflect new developments or changes in the market.

With the right learning platform, one that leverages Collaborative Learning, you can create content that doesn’t just keep up with your changing organization; it advances it.


Example in practice: When the company adopts a new billing software, the Customer Ops team is able to quickly create best practices and a course on how to use the software. Employees are able to start using the software right away. Customer Ops can then continue to update the course to reflect employee questions.

Collaborative Learning is people-centric

Employees are a company’s most valuable resource. A Collaborative Learning platform helps you leverage that competitive advantage by letting teams learn from one another, rather than simply prescribing standardized learning content based on role.

Collaborative Learning is people-centric

The problem: irrelevant and unengaging training programs

Right now, too many organizations are stuck thinking of learning as a one-way street. In this mentality, L&D creates learning materials, and employees consume them. Everything goes in one direction, with no opportunity for back-and-forth or feedback. This is industrialized learning, designed with the sole goal of delivering skills to employees. Only it doesn’t work.

Centralized content creation is deliverable-driven, not results-driven. L&D wastes time and money creating or purchasing courses that nobody pays attention to. They pump that content into LMS systems built for administrators, not learners. No wonder the average course completion rate is so dismal, hovering around the 20-30% mark.

This approach hasn’t been effective in the past, and it’s certainly not sufficient now. Media consumption habits have changed to favor peer-driven content. You only have to look to the rise of billion-dollar social media companies to see that people respond most strongly to peer-driven content.

LXPs got us halfway to solving the problem. They made it easier to find and consume learning materials than a stodgy LMS did. But the real crisis isn’t in the presentation of content; it’s a critical lack of focus on creating engaging content that also encourages community interaction. To solve this crisis, we need a way to take advantage of your employees’ collective knowledge and expertise.

The solution: learning as a conversation, not a directive

Collaborative Learning is a peer-driven, bottom-up method for creating learning materials, making it more effective than traditional elearning methods. Employees request specific learning needs based on what they view as the gaps in their knowledge. In-house experts then meet those needs by creating relevant courses. Everyone is an active participant in learning together.

Not only is this more democratic, but it’s also more dynamic. There is more room for conversation, feedback, and iteration. You can create more effective learning materials and boost employee engagement at the same time.

Facilitating knowledge transfer and idea-sharing among your employees isn’t just a way to drive better performance, but it also enables innovation. Your teams might not have realized the skills and knowledge present within their teams. Once they’re aware of it, there’s no limit to what you can create.

Example in practice: Instead of a sales enablement manager setting mandatory pitch-assessment modules to be completed by all reps, she could give reps the opportunity to declare where they were running into problems, and propose solutions. Then she could create learning paths that offered the support and the guidance needed to improve.

Related: 3 Biggest Challenges of Remote Sales Training and How to Overcome Them

Collaborative Learning enables a distributed company culture

In a world where employees are increasingly willing to job-hop, strong company culture matters more than ever. A platform that leverages Collaborative Learning can help you build that strong company culture, one that’s more flexible, decentralized, and nurturing. One that helps employees develop their skills and careers.

How collaborative learning works

The problem: corporate learning makes employees feel like automatons

Building a company culture that inspires and empowers employees is a tall order. Unfortunately, it’s an area where organizations have frequently fallen short in the past, especially during moments of crisis. A rigid, top-down corporate culture will inevitably be less flexible and in-touch with employees’ needs.

Centralized learning programs only contribute to the problem. They are more likely to be focused on specific deliverables, for example, up-skilling large swaths of employees without concern for individual growth opportunities. To do this, they turn to one-size-fits-all solutions, like mass reskilling programs or in-person training seminars.

These solutions are usually expensive, are not effective, and can be challenging to scale. Not to mention the impracticality of in-person training in a year like 2020. On top of that, generic learning programs make employees feel like a number, not like a valued team member. Again, this lack of personalization is a major contributing factor to the current crisis of engagement.

Employees are taking a stand on company culture. If they don’t like what you’re offering, they are more willing than ever to find another job. But they’re not after in-suite Ping-Pong tables or bonding retreats. They want an inclusive culture where they can learn, grow, and advance their careers.

The solution: a culture of learning that empowers workers

Collaborative Learning can play a decisive role in the ongoing struggle to keep employees happy, present, and focused. It encourages each employee to take ownership of organizational culture by creating an environment where they can contribute their skills and experience by creating content, and where each person’s skills and ideas are genuinely valued.

A flat hierarchy model is far more conducive to inclusive company culture. Decentralized management allows leaders to be more flexible and employee-focused. It enables them to take a more active role in employee growth and development by acting as learning coaches who create individual learning paths and goals.

Collaborative Learning drives a culture focused on training impact. No more pointless videos or interminable webinars: If an activity isn’t helping people learn, it’s not worth their time. With the right Collaborative Learning platform, your learners can highlight any inaccuracies or potential improvements in learning content, making the learning process more engaging.

Most importantly, decentralized learning is useful in a company of 10 or 10,000. It works whether you’re all in the same building or spread out across the world. It scales as the company grows, and is elastic enough to change with the organization’s priorities.

A culture of decentralized learning empowers all people while helping them move forward on their learning journey.

Example in practice: Instead of instituting a corporate re-skilling initiative for 1,000 engineers, a company could encourage each employee to set their own learning goals based on their specific aspirations and priorities for development.

5 benefits of Collaborative Learning

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

In contrast with traditional corporate training, Collaborative Learning is democratized, relevant, fast, iterative, and impact-driven. Here’s what that means in practice.


Collaborative Learning is democratized

Most traditional corporate training is top-down, meaning management or L&D determines training needs and then creates or buys learning materials to meet those needs. In contrast, in a Collaborative Learning methodology, anyone on the team can make a request or create a learning need.

This allows everyone in the organization to contribute to the learning process, making them feel more engaged and focused. Employees suggest training needs, and other employees use their unique skill sets to create content to fulfill those needs. Then, L&D assists others to complete courses, runs quality control, and makes sure learners have what they need to succeed.

Because employees declare learning needs, they can learn about the things they care about. The result is greater employee buy-in and smoother knowledge-sharing between employees and departments.

Collaborative Learning is relevant

Collaborative Learning courses are created by your fellow team members, which means content is more nuanced and specific to your company than third-party courses.

In a traditional L&D model, the team creates learning content themselves or purchases courses from a third party. The process for commissioning courses typically involves a group of instructional designers with technical backgrounds. Classes can take months to produce and can be very expensive.

Conversely, with Collaborative Learning, L&D and employees create and fulfill learning needs together. As a result, employees are more invested in the learning process. They help create quality content that L&D doesn't have to buy or source through expert interviews.

Collaborative Learning is fast

One of the biggest contributors to the current crisis in learning is the sluggish response to training needs. By the time L&D teams have realized there’s a gap in their resources and responded with the right learning content, the chance to make the biggest positive impact has long passed.

Collaborative Learning connects people together, allowing them to declare learning needs, share their skills and expertise, and create learning content quickly to answer urgent questions. This way, organizations can respond to opportunities for growth quickly and more effectively.

Collaborative Learning is iterative

Because course creation has traditionally been slow and expensive, updates and refreshes have been infrequent. Collaborative Learning makes it easy to create and edit course materials, which means it's far easier to update them based on new information or employee feedback.

Now, iteration is more important than ever. Courses frequently go out of date due to technological or organizational changes. Static course design hinders flexibility and slows down employee learning.

With Collaborative Learning, you can disseminate information and iterate it later based on feedback. This way, crucial information gets into the hands of employees exactly when it is needed, empowering them to make better decisions.

Collaborative Learning is impact-driven

Traditional L&D programs are deliverable-driven, focused solely on counting things like course completion. In contrast, Collaborative Learning is impact-driven, and looks at the impacts your training is having over time.

In most L&D departments, success is measured by the number of courses shipped and completed by employees. This approach offers very low visibility into how employees are interacting with the courses or what they’re getting out of that experience. It also makes it more difficult to demonstrate training ROI.

In contrast, Collaborative Learning is impact-driven, because it doesn't define success as simply course delivery. Rather, because teams are active in the learning process, their feedback indicates whether a course is successful.

The practical applications of Collaborative Learning

Adopting Collaborative Learning can have positive effects that extend far beyond the L&D department.

1. Build a more flexible and adaptable workforce

Collaborative Learning makes for a more flexible workforce, as it allows people to learn new products and processes quickly. This makes it significantly easier to create training programs, which in turn makes it easier for specific departments, or even entire companies, to adapt to products or processes.

This flexibility is a huge competitive advantage in a world in constant flux. A learning platform focused on quick and nimble responses to training opportunities could have a profound impact across your entire business. With an elastic learning platform, you’ll be able to pivot quickly to meet changing market dynamics or counteract world events. In practice, this means smoother transitions to developments such as the switch to remote working.

Most importantly, next time a crisis hits, you may be able to rapidly re-skill employees and avoid layoffs. For example, when Scandinavian Airlines found themselves with thousands of grounded flights due to COVID-19, they quickly retrained their service workers as health-care support workers. In this case, the company fulfilled a critical national need even as their primary income generator was off the table.

2. Encourage robust learning and engagement

Effective Collaborative Learning encourages active learning, making it more effective for knowledge retention and learning engagement than traditional passive learning methods.

Studies show that active learning increases knowledge retention. Employees are more involved with the learning process when they create and take peer-generated courses instead of watching training videos or listening to lectures. Employees have the opportunity to interact with the learning materials and can ask questions and suggest feedback.

Collaborative Learning is also linked to greater employee engagement. Employees are more motivated to complete courses when they know their peers are counting on them. For example, 360Learning strengthens this motivation by encouraging employees to become learning champions who share their skills with others.

collaborative learning in practice

Researchers have also linked Collaborative Learning to enhanced communication and team-building capabilities. That’s because the act of teaching requires employees to flex their communication and critical thinking skills. Helping colleagues learn builds a layer of responsibility and camaraderie as colleagues work together to conquer business challenges.

Related: 4 Benefits of Collaborative Learning Backed By Science & Psychology

3. Build a learning culture

A Collaborative Learning platform helps build a shared learning culture by creating an atmosphere where team members are continually learning with and from one another. Employees are always sharing expertise and building new skills.
Companies frequently make the mistake of waiting until an immense and obvious skill gap appears before they invest in new training solutions for their workers. Unfortunately, by then, the gap is usually too big to be easily overcome. Instead, you need to foster an atmosphere of constant learning and growth before you have a massive skill gap to traverse.
This culture building starts with a collaborative onboarding process and continues throughout an employee’s career. Employees are active contributors, sharing their unique knowledge or creating training requests when they see a gap.


Related: How We Use Peer Learning to Keep Our Company’s Competitive Edge

Collaborative Learning is answer to the crisis in online training

As we’ve seen, L&D teams everywhere are facing a crisis in learning. People don’t have the time or the space to focus on online training the way they want to, and we need a drastic solution to get them excited and empower them to share their skills and expertise.

Companies can respond to this crisis by creating a robust culture of Collaborative Learning. In return, they will be rewarded with a highly skilled, engaged, and loyal workforce that’s ready to tackle the challenges ahead. They’ll have the means to turn their collective talents into a competitive advantage, and the flexibility to solve learning needs as soon as they arise.

To do this, you’ll need the right tools. A traditional LMS or LXP will take you only so far. You need an integrated learning platform that’s nimble, people-centric and distributed.

We’ve built a learning platform that combines the power of a modern LMS with Collaborative Learning. It can be used as a stand-alone learning system or in addition to your existing LMS. It lets everyone play a part in your company's learning culture and encourages every employee to actively build their skills and share with others.

For years, we’ve been advocating Collaborative Learning as a way to transform organizational culture. Now, we believe that we are on the cusp of a Collaborative Learning revolution. The way we work, communicate, and learn is changing fast, and it’s changing for good. If you fall behind now, you risk being disrupted by your competition.

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Are you interested in joining the movement and finding a solution? Reach out for a demo today.