Learning & Development

Collaborative Learning: The Complete Guide

Summary: Corporate employee training has changed a lot over the last several years. But perhaps the most significant change is a shift from the traditional employee-trainer model to a learning method known as collaborative learning

But what exactly is collaborative learning, and how can you incorporate it into your employee training programs?

What is collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning is when groups of two or more learners work together to understand a subject, complete shared tasks, build relevant skills, and participate in group discussions. It can take many forms, including large groups, one-on-one peer learning experiences, and models that involve varying levels of trainer engagement. 

Learning collaboratively is still focused on transmitting information, but instead of treating knowledge as an end in itself, the goal is to learn how to use this training in a practical context.

A trainer's presence during collaborative learning

Trainers in collaborative learning are not so much sharing knowledge as they are acting as guides for learning, using their knowledge and expertise to help shepherd employees through the process of absorbing and using new skills.

In contrast to the trainer-employee model, which focused primarily on training and instilling skills one subject at a time, collaborative learning emphasizes the process of learning, creating a long-term drive for self-improvement that also serves the best interests of the company.

Why is collaborative learning important in the workplace?

Collaborative learning is important because it creates a more engaging learning environment for participants. The primary goal of collaborative learning is for employees to work together to complete specific tasks, solve complex problems, or gain a practical grasp of an underlying concept.

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Benefits of collaborative learning

Building collaborative learning into your workforce can bring many benefits to your organization and your employees. This style of learning has been proven to increase retention, engagement, and critical thinking.

Here's a breakdown of how collaborative learning can benefit your organization:

1. Improves communication abilities

One of the key elements in collaborative learning is communicating, both in terms of speaking and listening. Employees can build their public speaking abilities within the group and while the group presents their ideas to an audience. 

But just as importantly, they develop their active listening skills. Rather than simply taking in information, learners start to synthesize that data to build and create new ideas and challenge viewpoints in a productive way.

2. Promotes critical thinking and creativity

Because collaborative learning relies so heavily on interpersonal communication, trainees quickly develop critical thinking skills. They not only need to understand the problem that has been laid out before them, but they also need to be able to evaluate the contributions made by everyone on the team.

This process also helps to build creativity. As employees learn from one another, new ideas can begin to spark, often springing from suggestions offered by others in the group. 

3. Emphasizes a cooperative mindset

Not all team members are comfortable working in a collaborative environment. This can be true for any number of reasons. Shyness, a lack of confidence, or arrogance can all be impediments to establishing a cooperative mindset.

With collaborative learning, even the most reluctant team member can find themselves diving into the work, focused on finding a solution to the problem in front of them. 

4. Builds an open mindset

Perhaps best of all, collaborative learning encourages employees to open their minds to alternative points of view. Each team member brings their own worldview and their own experiences to the table. Through collaboration, learners get to know each other and better understand how different viewpoints can be valid.

5. Establishes stronger relationships between departments

Collaborative learning can help to prevent organizations from siloing departments or individuals, especially when strategies involve mixing different teams. 

This intra-departmental communication can make your work much easier since everyone will be more familiar with each other and better able to communicate.

6. Builds stronger knowledge and skills

One of the key benefits of collaborative learning is its effectiveness in building your company’s skills and knowledge bases. 

By instilling a cooperative mindset, learning never really stops, and peers will continue to share their knowledge and ideas with each other over the course of their time with your company. That kind of collaboration can only make your organization stronger

7. Improves employee retention and engagement

With collaborative learning, employees are not just encouraged to be engaged, it’s a prime requirement. Active learning can draw the attention of even the most disengaged employees.

As employees become more actively engaged in their work and training, they’re much more likely to remain with the company. Not only do they feel more connected to their work, but these training efforts send the message that the company is committed to the employee’s future. That can go a long way toward raising your retention rates.

8. Helps to develop leadership skills

The best companies are constantly looking for the next leaders to take over roles within their organizations. Collaborative learning provides an excellent way to develop leadership skills

While learning groups are meant to be collaborative, each person takes on a shared leadership role. This experience can prove to be invaluable down the line, especially as individual employees grow as leaders.

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Collaborative learning strategies for trainers

While the employee-trainer dynamic can still be helpful in some situations, collaborative learning strategies offer advantages that other learning models can’t match.

There are several ways to incorporate collaborative learning strategies into your workplace, from structured professional development to everyday experiences. 

Here's how trainers can implement a collaborative learning strategy into corporate training:

1. The buddy system

One of the easiest ways to build collaborative learning into your workplace is to pair up new employees with workers who have been with the company for a longer time. Often referred to as mentoring, this buddy system should be seen as more than a one-way street. 

By mentoring a new employee, an established worker reinforces their knowledge in a given process. Even more valuable, when the trainee asks questions, it can lead to improvements in how work gets done, potentially identifying inefficiencies and redundancies in existing systems. 

2. Mix and match your teams

When it comes to training your employees, it’s easy for companies to keep the same teams together throughout the entire training process. While these teams may work well together, you won't create a collaborative learning environment if you don’t mix your teams up from time to time.

You can create specific training modules that are intended to bring groups from different teams and departments together, especially when those groups typically don’t work together. 

Evaluating these results should include discussions about the end result and the process of working together, what they discovered, and how they might approach a similar problem in the future.

3. Objective-oriented training

By creating a group that is focused on achieving a single objective, you can encourage team members to work collaboratively to solve the problem laid before them. In addition, these teams can marshal their relevant skills, using each contributor’s strengths, skills, and knowledge to ideally come to a solution that reflects the entire team’s best work.

You can then have the team present its results, allowing members to explain their process. Again, this is a great chance to offer constructive feedback that they can use to refine their ideas further. 

4. Teams training teams

Bringing collaborative learning strategies into your workplace can make ongoing learning a major focus of your organization. One simple yet effective way to help this process is to have different teams or departments within your company train other groups on what they do.

For many employees, their range of knowledge is focused on their own functions and responsibilities. By sharing their experience with other departments, each employee can help to present a deeper understanding of the way that all team members contribute to the company’s success.

5. Collaborative learning communities

While mixing teams up from time to time is always a good idea, it can also be useful to establish learning communities within your company.

Working together, these groups can develop a kind of shorthand, which can lead to especially effective peer training relationships, with each member actively contributing to the group.

The goal for these groups is to enhance collaborative learning, so know that you can make whatever adjustments you need to in order to achieve that objective.

Examples of collaborative learning activities

Collaborative learning activities are group-based activities where multiple learners are working together to solve problems, complete tasks, or understand a shared subject.

Some examples of successful collaborative learning activities are:

  • Group problem-solving - present learners with a complex problem and have them work together in order to solve it. These can be relevant to real-world situations or common on-the-job challenges they might come across.
  • Case studies - create a real or fictional case study revolving around a particular subject and task the learners with analyzing the outcome. Have learners or groups present their analysis of why the case study was a success or failure.
  • Team-based learning - start a discussion about a particular topic and have learners talk about the subject amongst themselves to see how each of their perspectives and experiences influence their understanding. Then have the learners relay back their collective overview of the topic.
  • Stumping their group - learners are tasked with creating a challenging question for their partner or group based on the subject presented. By using discussions or critical thinking, the group can work together to answer the question, thus proving they've understood what was taught.
  • Roleplaying and reenactments - have the learners act out what they've been trained, this is a great collaborative learning activity for work-related situations, especially within a customer service department. See if each group or pair of learners can come up with their own problems and situations that the other group can address through roleplaying.

Choose a collaborative learning platform that works

While many collaborative learning sessions will still involve some form of testing, this evaluation is not the focal point of the training. Instead, the primary learning objective is communication within each group, resulting in more active learning than the “passive” learning associated with lectures.

The easiest way to incorporate collaborative learning in your organization is through a modern learning platform like Continu. Unlike legacy learning platforms, Continu provides admins or instructors with the solutions they need to connect learners together.

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See Continu in action and how it can help your organization build a culture of learning.

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