Online LearningThis is the first blog in a series on how to design, conduct, and assess an effective online collaborative learning program.

Organizations need to adapt their learning and development practices to the technological advances and preferences of Millennials (born between 1981 and 1997). Millennials outnumber Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), making them the largest generation in the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center. This rapidly growing tech-savvy demographic values on-the-job collaboration—sharing ideas and receiving constructive feedback to help them learn and grow. Therefore, companies should promote social, collaborative, and informal sources of learning that increase engagement while offering opportunities for professional growth.

Online collaborative learning is one strategy that enables employees to work in groups, which may be geographically dispersed but interconnected, to foster a culture of productive learning and build an active learning community. Benefits include:

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  • learning through online communities of practice 
  • active learning and sharing of expertise 
  • breakdown of knowledge silos 
  • meaningful connections with different points in a discussion 
  • participants who are encouraged to reflect and expand their learning horizons, because they have time to consider all responses 
  • behavioral competencies such as teamwork, cooperation, communication, and problem solving 
  • easy-to-manage content and organizational knowledge 
  • access to recorded interactions, which makes it easy to monitor and assess various aspects and check understanding of concepts covered.

Online collaborative learning is not without issue, though. Some common concerns include:

  • What if the individual participants’ contributions are not acknowledged and rewarded appropriately? 
  • What if some participants in a group contribute low-quality work, which may reduce the overall output of an assignment? 
  • What if some participants do not contribute equally in a group but share the benefits of success? 
  • What should be the focus of assessments?

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at specific design elements of collaborative learning.