Corporate training has changed a lot over the last several years. But perhaps the most significant change is a move away from the traditional employee-trainer model.
Instead of a single trainer in front of a room, lecturing employees and passing along a steady stream of facts and figures, most training programs have adapted to take advantage of something known as collaborative learning.
While the employee-trainer dynamic can still be helpful in some situations, collaborative learning strategies offer advantages that other learning models can’t match.
But what exactly is collaborative learning, and how can you incorporate it into your professional development programs?
What is Collaborative Learning?
Collaborative learning is a general term that serves as a catch-all for a range of instructional approaches that include learners' or trainees' and instructors' shared intellectual work. Learners usually operate in groups of two or more, looking together for understanding, answers, or producing a product. While there are many different types of collaborative learning activities, the majority focus on learners' examination or implementation of the training materials rather than just the instructor's presentation or interpretation of it.
Collaborative learning in the organization
Collaborative learning can take many forms, including large groups, one-on-one peer learning experiences, and models that involve varying levels of trainer engagement.
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.
Collaborative learning goals and evaluation
In traditional training methodologies, trainers would, for the most part, prepare training in the form of PowerPoints. Employees would take notes and ask questions to clarify specific concepts or discover how to deploy the information in particular situations.
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.
While trainees will still likely take notes, the primary goal of collaborative learning is to work together to complete specific tasks, solve complex problems, or gain a practical grasp of an underlying concept.
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 tool is communication within each group, resulting in more active learning than the “passive” learning associated with lectures.
Benefits of collaborative learning
Building collaborative learning into your workforce can bring many benefits to your organization and your employees.
In contrast to the trainer-employee model, which focused primarily on training and instilling skills one subject at a time, collaborative learning strategies emphasize the process of learning, creating a long-term drive for self-improvement that also serves the best interests of the company.
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.
When you create a judgment-free environment that embraces these ideas, employee creativity will skyrocket.
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.
No one is suggesting that collaborative learning can work miracles. Some employees may continue resisting a cooperative process. But even for these employees, collaborative learning can reveal shortcomings and help you make the right staffing decisions.
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 each be valid.
Collaborative learning also introduces a number of benefits for organizations.
5. Establishes stronger relationships between departments
Collaborative learning strategies 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
Companies frequently cite a lack of employee engagement as a reason for turnover. 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.
If you’re interested in learning more about collaborative learning, take a closer look at our online learning platform that can help you build a professional development program that will leverage collaborative learning strategies to enhance your company’s training outcomes.
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 executive presence 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.