The time, cost and effort of formal training often doesn’t lend itself to the outcomes demanded by business, however learning from others’ direct experiences can help teams to avoid making the same mistakes.
In a time-poor, rapidly changing world, collaborative learning directly responds to the challenge of keeping us fighting fit at work.
The time, cost and effort of sending teams to structured, individualised academic courses does not necessarily result in delivery of the outcomes that the business world now demands. We need to constantly adapt and evolve to meet an ever-changing and uncertain environment just to stay ahead and course-based learning can often struggle to remain relevant or keep up with the pace of change.
The question is this: Is it preferable, when faced with a new problem, that you greet it head on by making new mistakes (or better still, no mistakes), than to repeat the mistakes already made by others?
This is the crux of collaborative learning: Learning from those who’ve been there, and done that and avoiding their mistakes.
Why Collaborative Learning?
The formation of peer groups and engagement over their collective knowledge and experience enables people in similar roles to share and problem-solve together, which rapidly lifts the collective knowledge and capability of the group.
In it’s purest sense, collaborative learning:
“… involves the use of small groups to solve common problems so that all participants can maximise their learning and that of their peers. It refers to learning methodologies and environments in which people engage in a common task where individuals depend on and are in turn accountable to each other.” (University of Sydney)
The old adage that two heads are better than one comes into play and by increasing this to say, 10 heads, we can make an exponential increase in the collective ability of the group to solve problems.
Different Experience, Different Perspectives
Why is it that group collaboration works better for learning? Take a group of people in similar fields and place them into a room.
First of all, we are aware that people are different. Some are visionaries; some are strategists; some are fast movers while some are procrastinators; some are early adopters and others are ‘me-toos’.
If we mesh a group of peers together, we are most likely to encounter a number of these stereotypes within the group and thereby unlock additional problem solving skills.
Apply Thinking Diversity to a Problem
Let’s consider how a diverse group such as the above could collectively solve a problem, for example, a member wants to know an effective way to introduce Agile into their delivery approach to projects.
The visionaries will potentially say that Agile methodologies are yesterday’s news and now it’s more about being an Agile organisation rather than focusing on methodology. The strategists will talk about how Agile delivery aligns to the organisational goals.
The early adopters will share what did and didn’t work for their organisations. The procrastinators will give all of their reasons for their organisation not going to Agile. If you’re lucky, you might have some completer / finishers in the room that break the debate down into a process-by-process approach.
However, for collaborative learning to be effective, it can’t just be a talkfest. This is where a group facilitator should ensure that all views are expressed, captured and then work with the peer group to form a solution for the problem that is at hand.
The real power of this approach is that the group will have addressed the problems in real-world examples and crafted a response to each of the likely challenges that the member who raised the issue is likely to encounter when trying to implement Agile.
Utilising the group’s experience will enable them to take on the lessons learned from those that came before, crafted in such a way as to be acceptable for the different personality types and supportable by fact from previous experience. In other words, the work will be ‘new’ rather than a repeated mistake.
Why Does Collaborative Learning Work?
Collaborative learning, whilst seemingly unstructured, will have helped each of the peers in the above group to grow their capability around the problem solved, by:
- Creating dialogue amongst a diverse set of peers
- Improving the understanding of the specific problem in situ
- Integrating futuristic, current and traditional knowledge about the problem in the dialogue
- Increasing the opportunity to build rapport, respect and trust among the participants
- Making tangible improvements in the problem situation for the person who raised the issue.
How Does Collaborative Learning Benefit All?
Viewed through a different lens, there are other benefits of collaborative learning, such as:
- Social connection – Helps to confidently address problems with input and appreciation of various personality types that will be impacted by the solution
- Psychological – Builds confidence in the decisions as these are supported by real world experiences and have the collective support of peers
- Academic – The capability of peers is uplifted as concept and real-wold collide into a solution.
Continual learning is critical for everybody to ensure that their skills remain relevant and that challenges can be met with the best possible solutions.
Leveraging a peer-to-peer network focused on collaborative learning can be an effective way to keep ahead of the pack and ensure that your skill set does remain relevant in the ever-changing world we now live in.
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