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The Best Way to Uncertainty-Proof Your Digital Learning? A Collaborative Blend


Thu Aug 20 2020

The Best Way to Uncertainty-Proof Your Digital Learning? A Collaborative Blend

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You already have an LMS. You used to deliver training through the classroom for its one-on-one impact, with some e-learning or VILT in the mix for topics that require broader, faster reach. But of course, you can’t do classroom anymore. Enter collaborative learning, which maps to brain science (like the higher levels of Five Moments of Need and Bloom’s Taxonomy) to human nature (social relationships) and to how work gets done (in teams). And it’s not the same experience as just bolting a discussion forum to your LMS or e-learning module. The benefits of switching to a collaborative online learning modality are big, fast, and business-based. So, let’s dig in.

Collaborative online learning is a digital experience:

  • That leverages the best of classroom learning and e-learning delivery without their respective downsides

  • In which learners are providing crowd-sourced content as part of the course

  • That motivates, challenges, and encourages learners via their peers, mentors, or subject matter experts

  • Where learners solve business-related problems together and create usable outputs

  • That you can’t successfully go through without interacting with other people

  • Where human-to-human connection (via engaging technology) is the backbone of the experience

  • That mirrors everyday workflow and work habits (like teamwork and asking questions of peers)

Why collaborative learning, specifically? GP Strategies’ 2019 Voice of the Learner report states that “More than 70 percent of respondents want to learn with someone else. . . . Technology can be an enabler of learning and the human connection.” In a 2019 survey of more than 1,000 learners and 400 chief learning officers (CLOs), both revealed that “learning with/from others” (such as collaborative learning) was the respondents’ most preferred method of learning. For learners, this was regardless of the type of learning last delivered by their organizations. Collaborative learning was also selected by CLOs as the type of learning that provides the most value (82 percent) despite that most still deliver their training via the classroom (87 percent).

In early 2020, 1,000 learners again agreed that collaborative learning was their preferred way to learn, which was way above self-study, one-on-one coaching, and external learning libraries they can peruse at will. (Bonus: A good collaborative online approach also allows for one-on-one coaching as well as self-paced and interactive learning too.)

And you do need to care about it in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras. Why? Because your learners did and still do. That makes it more than just a nice-to-have. In a post-COVID-19 survey of 750 employees in March 2020, learners once again said by far that they want online learning during the pandemic and beyond (and they wish they’d had the opportunity to learn online before too). In a comments section, learners overwhelmingly recommended to their L&D departments that they please keep digital learning options when things to back to “normal.”

The best way to tackle the current and immediate future for learning and development is to blend digital asynchronous (self-driven) learning with synchronous virtual events (webinars, town hall Zoom meetings, group breakout sessions). This blend satisfies learners’ desire for collaborative learning that can be taken on their terms and time as well as the yearning for live human connection.

Collaborative online learning is a technology and a point of view about learning experiences. It is effective for high-stakes learning that requires hitting the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and immediate on-the-job application. And it’s doable to add to an existing learning ecosystem.


One of the few win-wins to come out of this mess of a year is this moment of opportunity L&D has right now to create lasting learning programs that meet learners where they want to be met, retains the high standards of classroom learning with bonus activities you can do online but not in the classroom, and impacts behavior change and the business. Embrace the digital blend of collaborative learning and synchronous virtual events—your learners will thank you, and your stakeholders will be blown away.

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