Did you think you’d be doing the job you’re doing today when you were 18, pre-college, deciding on what to major in?
Chances are, the job you’re doing right now didn’t even exist at that time. Technological advancements in the past 10 to 15 years have opened up innovative fields of work and created entirely new career options.
According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, the top two jobs with the highest annual growth percentage are: Artificial Intelligence Specialist and Robotics Engineer. Other emerging jobs include Cloud Engineer, Behavioral Health Technician, and Chief Revenue Officer. All of these jobs have been created in the last five to 10 years and often require new and cross-domain expertise with no fixed educational paths.
The education system that most of us grew up with was purpose-built to efficiently produce employees for factories and offices where jobs would remain static or evolve at a pace that corporate training could keep up with. This is a huge problem for everyone.
Every year, new jobs are created and old jobs become obsolete. It is therefore crucial for companies that want to stay competitive to find the right talent and right way to train, upskill, and share crucial knowledge with their employees to help them grow.
A new method of learning and knowledge-sharing in the workplace has surfaced to address this business problem: collaborative learning.
What is collaborative learning?
Collaborative learning happens when people share knowledge with each other.
This isn’t a new concept. In school, we’ve all formed study groups and revised for exams or worked on projects together. You might have preferred these study sessions with friends over one-way lectures from your teachers, and wished you could’ve spent more time in discussions with your classmates.
It’s the same model of education advocated by the author of Prepared, Diane Tavenner, who’s a founder of Summit Public Schools which since opening its first school in 2003, operates some of the top-performing schools in the United States. Her group of educators have found that self-directed, peer-based learning help students build skills that employers are looking for in the workplace.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“...organically, kids started helping one another while they waited in line. Pretty soon the bar was crowded with pairs of students helping each other in addition to the teacher helping. And suddenly peer tutoring was our highest-ranking resource.
Today, we have learning environments designed for teacher-to-student and peer-to-peer collaboration, and a technology platform allowing students who have demonstrated mastery in a particular knowledge area to share their willingness to tutor. The win-win is undeniable.
Evidence clearly shows that when a person teaches someone else something, they gain greater mastery. Leveraging students to appropriately support one another builds not only knowledge, but so many of the habits of success.
And usually kids volunteer to be a resource about topics they’re interested in. Their natural curiosity is transferred as they engage with their peers—in the same way that when I recommend a book I’ve just read, someone browsing might just decide to buy it. “
This is exactly the same when we apply it to a business setting. Collaborative learning is centered around connecting peers based on their needs and expertise. The goal of collaborative learning is to close knowledge gaps within an organization in a scalable and repeatable way by transforming tribal, in-house expertise into reusable courses for the entire organization.
The best way to understand collaborative learning in the workplace is to compare it against typical corporate training, the former being bottom-up and the latter being top-down:
Collaborative learning seeks to address the limitations of traditional corporate training, namely:
Business impact: difficulty in connecting the dots between your training initiatives and business results
Scalability: the bottleneck of centralized, slow content creation not being able to keep up with evolving needs
Expertise: your training departments and L&D teams cannot provide in-depth knowledge in all different domains
Content quality and relevance: courses get outdated quickly, and you cannot tell which courses work or need work
Learners’ engagement: there is limited visibility on learners’ engagement with the courses and how to improve it
Corporate training clearly isn’t working. And that’s what collaborative learning seeks to change.
How does collaborative learning work?
To understand why collaborative learning is on the rise in the workplace, let’s look at the three pillars that define collaborative learning.
1. Peer learning
Peer learning happens when two or more colleagues learn together. Whereas corporate training has traditionally relied on a top-down student-teacher approach to learning, in peer learning any team member can request or share knowledge. This removes the notion of “expert” and “learner” that puts enormous pressure on L&D to create all training materials and creates a passive experience for employees.
How it works:
When making a request, team members articulate their need as a business problem: “I don’t know how to do A/B testing in Marketo” or “I’m not sure how to position ourselves against competitor X.”
As a result, the impact of closing this knowledge gap can be explicitly identified - in our previous examples, the conversion of MQLs to SQLs via email campaigns or the win ratio over competitor X would make for clear KPIs. This means that requests can be prioritized based on the expected impact on the business.
This solves the typical bottleneck issue of the single dedicated training department being flooded with requests and not knowing where to begin. Since any in-house subject-matter-expert can respond, requests could be handled much more quickly.
If you think about it, peer learning is already happening organically in most companies. Examples are peer coding reviews in engineering teams or sales call reviews in sales teams. On its own, peer learning creates an environment where in-house experts naturally surface as team members discover “who’s good at what” and naturally turn to the right person for help.
Collaborative learning leverages this peer learning practice to structure tribal knowledge into full-fledged reusable training courses.
That’s why collaborative learning works with an iterative training framework, meaning “minimum viable” courses are shipped quickly and improved over time through suggestions and feedback data from course takers. Lowering the barrier means that more courses get created quicker, and the ongoing feedback helps courses stay relevant.
This is similar to the approach with collaborative knowledge management tools where users co-create content. The difference is collaborative learning is focused on providing a personalized curriculum based on every team member’s job and learning needs, and includes constant evaluations that measures impact and relevance.
3. A culture of coaching
Switching from a top-down corporate training to a bottom-up collaborative learning approach means a change in the role of the “trainer," be it direct managers, L&D, or HR teams. With collaborative learning, having a dedicated facilitador to orchestrate the learning program is more important than ever. That’s where a coach comes in.
For collaborative learning to work effectively in the workplace, the coach has two vital roles.
The first is to ensure that courses are easily accessible, actionable, and impactful. As courses are being created and improved by in-house experts and not dedicated training departments, coaches need to ensure that courses are accessible by organizing course content inside a single collaborative learning platform. Their role is to make them impactful by ensuring that every request gets a course and that every course solves the problem highlighted in the request.
With collaborative learning platforms, coaches are able to ensure courses are impactful by:
Decentralizing content creation by leveraging in-house experts who can respond to requests or contextualize sourced expertise from eLearning content.
Prioritizing requests based on the impact they will have on the business.
Analyzing course activity and evaluations to identify courses that need improvement.
The second vital function of coaches is to organize courses into programs and personalized paths based on every employee’s job. With personalized learning paths, coaches align employee aspirations with the company’s expectations by creating a clear roadmap for development.
Having a clear, personalized path means that every employee knows what skills they need to acquire to become better at their jobs, and to declare a new learning need if a new area of training is identified.
What collaborative learning looks like in the workplace
Because Collaborative Learning is a bottom-up approach to sharing knowledge, any team can try collaborative learning as a means to solving a business challenge.
Collaborative learning for sales teams
Collaborative learning in sales teams have proven to be most effective in creating a clear framework for team members to share tribal knowledge, receive peer evaluation and learn new pitches. It also means identifying the right subject-matter-experts to share knowledge internally.
For example, the VP Sales at LeadGenius got their Operations Director and Marketing Director to create courses to explain their jobs to their sales reps, so that their sales team can understand the pain points and challenges of their target personas:
Of course, these training modules – marketing and operations – only make sense for LeadGenius because of who they’re selling to.
If you sell to finance execs, you could have your CFO create a training program based on finance buyer personas. If you sold to software engineers, you could turn to your CTO, for example. The goal here is to unlock and leverage internal knowledge to help your team succeed.
Collaborative learning to declare learning needs
360Learning uses a collaborative learning platform to declare learning needs, from soft skills like emotional intelligence to tactical sales training and personal passions (the gun culture course is not a joke):
Once a learning need is declared, everyone in the team who’s interested can upvote and comment. The platform allows for course improvement ideas surrounding the course outline and who can potentially be the best person to create the course.
If the topic is within your area of expertise, you can also apply to be the “course champion,” meaning the person who will be responsible for creating the course.
This method of declaring needs, upvoting, and volunteering to create courses helps to decentralize content creation and makes sure that the most demanded learning needs get the attention and resources required.
Collaborative learning for your clients
Collaborative learning also isn’t limited to training employees. You can apply it to onboarding your customers by creating courses to introduce your company, product, and services to your new clients, and have them ask questions and get expert insights from fellow users or your other customers about similar questions.
For example, sales engagement tool Datananas invests heavily on creating an online learning experience as a continuation of their sales cycle.
By opening their training courses to both prospects and customers, both their sales and customer success teams benefit from the additional opportunities of engagement with their clients.
According to their Co-Founder and CEO, Arthur Ollier, as a SaaS tool, Datananas’ success relies on customer loyalty, and online courses are the best way to educate and create a long-term relationship with their clients. They also use learner engagement metrics as a way of measuring adoption and their customer success team’s performance.
All of their new customers are required to go through four dedicated courses created for onboarding before they are granted access to the Datananas tool. The first courses are peppered with open questions that are meant to help their customer success managers understand and adapt their approach to each client.
By looking at the questions, reactions, and performance of their clients in the onboarding courses, the customer success managers are able to identify the power users, needs and areas of growth of the account and offer the best support the client needs.
Collaborative learning: all of us are smarter than one of us
As technology evolves, our jobs keep evolving. Every day, we have to learn to do something we’ve never done before.
The only way to stay competitive as individuals and companies is to adopt an effective way of learning. And most of the time, we aren’t alone in our learning needs. Whatever problems you’re trying to solve, it’s likely that someone has experienced it before.
Collaborative learning is a great way to consolidate everybody’s experience, knowledge, curiosity, and brain power, so that we can learn quicker and solve business problems together.
Joei Chan is the Director of Content at 360Learning. She’s passionate about telling the #CollaborativeLearning story to whoever’s listening. She’s equally passionate about testing every brunch place and yoga studio on the face of the earth. You can follow her onboarding journey with 360Studio’s original docu-series by Googling #OnboardingJoei.