Learning & Development

Using Social Collaboration Styles to Drive Change in VLEs

Millions of people have spent the better part of 2 years learning and working in virtual environments. In the zeitgeist of pings and dings, we may not have noticed how we were adapting and settling into new communication patterns. 

We all have different styles of working, learning, and communicating. But how are those styles different from an in-person environment to a virtual one? Research suggests a new model of collaboration styles for the virtual world. While you may be outgoing in person, your online presence could be more reflective and reserved. These styles influence and reflect everything from learning to our openness to change and innovation. They can also help us understand our places within the dynamics of collaborative learning.

Career psychologist Melinde Coetzee studied social collaboration styles in a virtual learning environment. 

She looked at how these styles influence peoples' ability to be proactive, stay open to new experiences and adapt to changes in technology. 

Coetzee characterizes 4 main social collaboration style preferences: 

Active-initiators like to take the lead in starting discussions, seeing collaboration as an opportunity to share their unique knowledge and insights. In social interactions, active-initiators take the stance of an evaluator, often responding with "that's so true" or "I think this is x because y." They like to stimulate conversation and healthy debate to draw out new ideas for the benefit of the whole group. This person is always sharing articles and dropping hot takes in the #random channel. 

Independent-evaluators tend not to respond directly to others right away. They prefer to contribute their own ideas and fresh perspectives. True debaters at heart, independent-evaluators want to have all the facts before discussing their meaning. Others may see their back-and-forth arguments and questioning of others' views as dominating the conversation, but they're there to deepen and meter things out. 

Reflective-evaluators respond to others by building on their ideas. They're your people who use the "yes, and" structure to communicate. Genuine collaborators, reflective-evaluators encourage others and praise good ideas while pointing out practical applications and uses. This is the group researcher, who often takes what's already there, builds on it, and goes out searching for new ideas and information that will help the group complete the task together. 

Passive-independent group members prefer to work on their own. A lurker in the chat, they see themselves as an impartial observer and may not participate in group debates. When they contribute, they tend to be last to do so, focusing on others' ideas instead of sharing their own or only appearing after the conversation's died down. Passive-independents may find it hard to participate in collaborative social activities (read: they hate group chats) and would rather keep their ideas to themselves.

These four styles generally make up the ecosystem of virtual group learning spaces. Some take on the role of instructors, who seem to drive conversations and center their own thoughts. Others facilitate, guide, and encourage while processing others' contributions to monitor learning. Instructor types usually put more time, effort, and energy into completing the task, proactively learning and remaining open to change. Reflective learning types like reflective-evaluators and passive-independents preferred to learn independently and were more resistant to change. Still, all types benefitted from participating in a group setting, contributing to a sense of belonging, shared motivation, and improved learning.

Adopting new technologies, figuring out how to use them, and integrating them into your life is all part of a person's lifelong learning--and these skills are all too relevant to today's organizations. 

Those who are open to change generally believe new products and tools can help them optimize outdated processes and methods of working. On the other hand, more resistant to change may need more guidance and encouragement to adopt a new system.

When implementing new virtual technologies, it's crucial to know where your team stands. Understanding everyone's social collaboration style is key to executing effective collaborative learning. Whether you're introducing a new tracking tool or rolling out an online learning platform, identify the active-initiators and instructor types and hype them up about it. They'll help energize the rest of the team and get everyone on board. And while there may be some who need more time, the right tool will eventually win everyone over. 

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