Collaboration has been shown to be more effective than individual or competitive efforts, regardless of cultural, socioeconomic, or geographic factors. Working together typically results in higher achievement and productivity; fosters more diverse, supportive, and committed professional relationships; and creates a sense of belonging. Most compellingly, collaboration gives individuals an opportunity to contribute to the group’s efforts and legitimately share in its rewards.
What Is Collaborative Learning?
It’s usually defined as two or more individuals learning together to achieve a common goal, whether it’s solving a problem, designing a product or service, or completing a project. By pooling individual contributions, teams can achieve their objectives faster and enable participants to develop new skills and expand their knowledge along the way.
Research shows that the skills with the greatest impact on individual and organizational performance are best learned in concert with other people. For example, collaborative activities greatly increase a sense of responsibility in individual participants. They know they must commit to an assignment for the entire team to succeed. Accountability is also fostered: Teammates are highly aware that the group will soon know if they’re only along for the ride.
In a corporate environment, well-designed collaborative learning can shift attitudes, behaviors, and mindsets at scale, improving organizational performance quickly. Exposure to problem-solving strategies from a broad array of colleagues can boost the sense of achievement, thanks to the concept of “higher-level thinking skills.” Participants develop these skills when they encounter ways of approaching a task that differs from their own.
Collaborative Learning During a Pandemic
Before 2020, most collaborative learning happened in-person through workshops, seminars with breakouts, and on-the-job training. Restrictions on travel and requirements for physical distancing have eliminated in-person training options for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, early efforts to move training onto video conferencing platforms have struggled to maintain engagement. Learners experience ‘Zoom fatigue,’ while facilitators endeavor to adapt their skills to an online environment.
Learning designers are now turning their efforts to create native digital learning experiences that maintain engagement and produce similar—and sometimes superior—results than in-classroom. These experiences incorporate asynchronous learning, which means that the learning process occurs at the learner’s own pace, while also incorporating live sessions with instructors, and plenty of interaction between learners through peer discussions, group work, and engagement of coaches and mentors.
Inclusive and Engaging Learning
In organizations with potentially thousands of employees on multiple continents, collaborative learning can establish inclusive and engaging learning experiences that involve virtual instructor-led workshops, self-study sessions with articles and videos, peer feedback, group discussions, and an individual or team capstone project. Experiences can be amplified through manager engagement and virtual mentor coaching, both of which are crucial in sustaining high-impact learning and scaling culture and performance change.
Networking for Learning and Developing Soft Skills
The freewheeling exchange of ideas and feedback in a collaborative environment catalyzes the growth of learning networks that nurture and sustain the capabilities of individuals. Tapping the wisdom, talent, and perspectives of peers and experts from all over the globe creates a more connected organization that’s agile, responsive, and customer-centric—key qualities that are essential for recovery from the pandemic.
Collaborative learning also offers social benefits. By working together, participants at all levels learn effective communication and interpersonal skills. They learn to listen to each other, resolve conflicts, and generate creative solutions. Collaborating in this way helps bring people together, leading to overall better professional relations.
Personal Discovery Through Others
At a time when many are struggling to discover purpose and meaning in their lives, collaborative learning can even help individuals learn more about themselves. Through group participation, team members discover whether they are leaders or followers; if they actively listen to others’ ideas; if they are able to articulate their own ideas effectively; and, how to align their personal purpose with those of their colleagues and of the organization.
Online experiences may never replicate the level of connection that humans feel when they interact physically with others. However, thoughtfully designed collaborative learning experiences can still bring people together to learn with and from each other and develop the personal and organizational capabilities to innovate and grow.