Employees constantly have to deal with changing information and solve new problems. This requires lifelong learning and flexible skills, so why not make this process even better?
Collaborative learning is a big concept.
This post will help you unpack what it is, how it differs from cooperative learning, benefits, pitfalls to avoid, examples, and practical tips for implementation.
What is Collaborative Learning?
Collaborative learning is when learners work together in small groups of two or more to solve problems, explore different concepts, and complete an assignment. This approach creates a more effective learning experience through social interaction.
The Difference Between Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
A related learning tool is cooperative learning, but there are some differences between the dynamics of each and the settings most suited to each.
In cooperative learning, each participant in a group is responsible for their section of the work and its success, as well as the success of the group.
Learners must make sure each group member understands the content to be learned and applied to achieve their goal. Before work begins, each participant’s role and tasks are predefined, and the process is supervised and guided by a leader or supervisor.
Collaborative learning is a more flexible approach in which group members determine their own roles and tasks while also helping each other learn and apply the learning material.
No supervisor sets the rules, and the group learning is self-directed.
Benefits of Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning holds a buffet of organizational and individual benefits. The following points describe what you, your organization, and its members can gain.
1. Learners develop leadership skills
Learners who are required to collaborate to achieve a goal get the opportunity to manage themselves and their workload and organize, teach, and productively lead others.
2. Enhanced employee knowledge and skills
Employees engage in a stimulating exchange during collaborative learning activities where they strengthen their current knowledge and skillset while gaining new knowledge and skills from other employees.
This makes expanding collaborative skills more interesting and lessens the need for (often more time-consuming) formal instruction.
3. Improved team relationships
Collaborative learning helps employees establish and build new connections with each other, making it easier for them to work as a team. The interaction helps them figure out how to lean on each other’s strengths and bridge their weaknesses.
4. Improves employee retention
The interaction that takes place in collaborative learning helps employees retain the information better because they have to apply and explore it in a more stimulating setting than if they were learning alone.
5. Collaborative learning is active learning
The concept of active learning involves movement, testing, turning knowledge over and around like a puzzle to apply it in different ways and solve problems instead of simply absorbing information by reading or watching a video in a non-active way.
6. Learners benefit from different viewpoints
Learners benefit from expanding their perspective when participating in a collaborative activity because they see and hear the different viewpoints of others.
It is an interesting merger of different ways to look at and process information and to solve problems.
7. Promotes critical thinking
Collaborative learning requires critical thinking because while learning from the viewpoints of others, learners must weigh them up against their own viewpoints and adjust their approach where necessary.
It’s a constant process of weighing new ideas against old ones, asking questions, and adjusting answers.
8. Learners learn to take criticism
Collaborative learning helps learners listen to constructive criticism and advice as the group discusses each other’s ideas and debate the pros and cons of different viewpoints on a topic.
9. Facilitates public speaking and active listening
Collaborative learning facilitates public speaking and active listening because learners are required to develop the ability to speak up, present their ideas and viewpoints while engaging with the different responses of the group.
It is an important social skill for work and personal relationships.
10. Encourages cooperation
Collaborative learning encourages cooperation among team members to achieve the same goal. They have to combine the best viewpoints, suggestions, knowledge, and skills from each member to be successful and share the effort as well as the credit.
11. Collaborative learning is democratic
Collaborative learning is democratic, i.e., everyone contributes to the learning process. There is room for everyone to participate and be heard.
This creates a sense of morale instead of feeling controlled when learning is only dictated from top to bottom.
12. Specific to company needs
Collaborative learning can be customized to your company’s specific needs as employees and employers can discuss the learning gaps that need to be addressed and what solutions would work best.
This custom approach is also more time- and cost-efficient.
13. Speeds up the learning process
Collaborative learning speeds up the learning process because it gets to the action almost immediately. Learners must engage with and apply information almost simultaneously, which is made easier by the group’s support.
14. Collaborative learning is measurable
Collaborative learning can be measured by employee feedback because they play an active role in shaping how learning takes place and setting the goals.
It’s easier to ask employees engaged in collaborative learning for feedback and get a constructive response than asking for feedback based on simply reading a coursebook.
Some Problems Collaborative Learning Can Fix
Organizations change fast; L&D teams are slow
Organizations are busy, and change is constant, so L&D teams struggle to keep up with covering new gaps in their resources to train people. By the time they address it, it’s late in the game, and the impact is not what it could have been.
With a collaborative learning strategy, everyone involved has a chance to speak up about their learning needs and to share their current skills and expertise with those who need it.
This means learning content can be created quickly to address pressing needs, and organizations can adapt for growth more effectively.
Boring, irrelevant training curriculums
Most organizations implement training in a top-down, one-way-street method, simply handing material to employees and ticking the box. But this is ineffective because there is no conversation.
A collaborative learning approach is peer-driven―everyone has a say in the learning needs and what type of content or material would best meet those needs.
The team gets to collaborate in creating the learning material needed, tailoring it to the organization and team’s needs, and working with genuine feedback.
One size does not fit all
Employees are not robots, and they also do not all learn the same way. Everyone has different learning styles and needs and different methods of problem-solving.
It is a positive and empowering tool in helping employees learn. Each one’s voice and needs matter to the organization as a whole, boosting morale, participation, and, best of all, the results.
Some Examples of Collaborative Learning
1. Assess flaws in training systems
Collaborative learning enables employees at different levels of seniority to work together, combining their perspectives to assess current training material systems.
This can result in a much more holistic report of the flaws and how to update or change the training to address them.
2. Problem solving across teams
Collaborative learning brings about much better problem solving as team members combine their unique perspectives, methods of approach, skills, and knowledge.
The shared responsibility also accelerates the process of arriving at a workable solution. As the saying goes, “two minds are better than one.”
3. New product development
There is nothing more exciting than putting multiple minds together to develop new products and come up with new ideas.
Instead of only one or two employees tackling it alone, a group can quickly work through all the tasks involved in the development, such as doing research and identifying gaps in the market, brainstorming product concepts, testing and refining them, and finalizing a solid proposal or prototype.
4. Interdepartmental training
Departments in organizations often become islands on their own, operating in isolation from others. This creates communication issues when problems affect more than one department.
Collaborative learning is a great solution―let a team from one department teach another department about their work, what they do, how they do it, and why.
Presentations and question and answer sessions help everyone understand how all the departments fit and work together.
5. Foster a collaborative learning community
Collaborative learning creates a learning community where everyone solves problems together and communicates openly. It helps employees learn from and teach each other, lets them explore new concepts, and grow in leadership.
Everyone participates in the learning process with genuine interest because they know they are a valued part of the process.
Collaborative Learning Tips & Tricks
1. Create crystal clear group goals
Get clear on what goals and learning objectives the group should achieve and let them assign individual accountability for the steps to get there. Clarity brings a sense of purpose and saves time.
2. Groups should be midsized
Four to five group members are ideal for collaborative learning activities because bigger groups can allow a few members to withdraw from participating. Groups of three or less are too small and lacking in diversity and creative thinking.
3. Be flexible with group norms
Collaborative learning is all about the quality of the interactions taking place. If you notice any issues, you can swap group members with other groups, contribute new information to the group, or set a few guidelines in place (applicable for younger students especially).
Keep it as flexible as possible, changing with different situations and challenges for best results.
4. Facilitate trust and open communication
For a group to be successful, interpersonal communication and trust-building are essential. Create room to deal with any emotional issues or interpersonal problems as soon as possible.
Facilitate and require team members to explain their work in the group thoroughly and keep communication open.
5. Establish group roles for larger tasks
When you have a complex group task, it can be helpful to assist the group in assigning group members different roles and tasks, or determine the roles and tasks and let them decide who does what on their own. Next time, they can change it up.
6. Use a pre-and post-test
If you’d like to make sure a group learns well together, try a pre-and post-test. Assess the team’s effectiveness after one assignment and make changes where necessary before giving the next assignment.
Giving out surveys can also provide helpful feedback on the group’s learning and functioning.
7. The learning process should be considered part of the assessment
What a student gains from the learning process is as important as the learning and achievement of set goals.
It’s worth grading group members on learner engagement, quality of discussion, and adhering to group norms to show that these aspects are also valuable. In the beginning, this may require more specific instruction.
8. Try out the Jigsaw technique
The jigsaw strategy is about breaking each group assignment into subtasks that are assigned to different members.
Each member then researches their part, becoming an expert on it. Then, students who researched the same task from different groups can meet to discuss their findings with others.
9. Use the group as a stress-reducing strategy
Collaborative learning groups are effective in supporting members in the group when working on challenging tasks or concepts. Members can encourage each other, reduce anxiety and help keep them moving forward in a positive atmosphere.
10. Smooth the way for group interactions
If the discussions and interactions in the group are good, it will immediately impact the group’s results. Use shared leadership to demonstrate and encourage successful group function.
This includes subtle facilitation of things like initiating discussions, summarizing main points, guiding the group towards a consensus, supporting the overall harmony of the group with encouragement, breaking tensions, etc.
11. Focus on real-world problems
Use open-ended questions and draw inspiration from problems in daily life for assignments. Real-world problems are more engaging to solve and useful for project-based learning and collaborative learning activities.
12. Enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills
Use assignments that allow for different outcomes. Assignments that allow for tasks such as categorizing, research, planning, or devising different solutions are all useful for encouraging members to solve problems in a step-by-step fashion.
13. Embrace diversity
Diversity is a huge asset in collaborative learning settings. The more varied the talents, backgrounds, styles, skills, experiences, and ideas in the group, the better.
Students learn more from each other and perform better in more varied groups.
14. Be aware of different learning styles
Learning styles differ between men and women and between people in general. For this reason, it’s well worth setting up groups with an equal gender balance wherever possible.
15. Increase the responsibility of the group
It’s natural to give a little more guidance at the start of a project, but as the group makes progress, step back and facilitate instead.
Allow the group to find their own way, taking on and dividing responsibilities on their own. This is one of the key goals in collaborative learning.
16. Incorporate different learning scenarios
Challenge the group with different learning scenarios such as lab work, writing projects, research projects that require active exploration, problem-solving, and collaboration beyond their usual scope. This creates a more stimulating learning experience.
17. Use technology
Technology is a handy resource in collaborative learning and virtual training, enabling team members to share and discuss results on the same project in real-time online.
Just make sure group members take the time to get to know each other a bit before engaging in the project planning and execution, as this will help avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
18. Use a balanced approach
Every argument has two sides, and so do the processes of problem-solving and project work.
Creating a balanced approach and avoiding “bad group work” where only one thought or perspective is dominant gives group members a chance to jot down their own thoughts and ideas before discussions.
Individual ideas are an important part of the process and should play a role in contributing to the overall result without taking over and creating a “group think” scenario.
19. Value different viewpoints
Collaborative learning by default means different viewpoints and ideas will be combined. Students need to appreciate and respect them to make it work.
Create a learning environment where independent, lateral thinking is valued as part of the process to develop complex solutions to challenging problems.
Using different methods and approaches is helpful―combine books, talks, and technology to explore ideas and varied perspectives.
How to start implementing collaborative learning in your organization
Now that you have an extensive overview of collaborative learning ask your team where the learning gaps are.
Let them tell you how best to address it and plan solutions together.
You’re off to a great start by simply opening the conversation.