A project team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won a North American nationwide balloon-hunt contest in an impossible nine hours.

They did so by collaborating on the Internet and learned from each other while completing the task. They turned to familiar, collaborative web technology to solve a professional challenge by:

• inviting their friends and their friends’ networks to participate

• choosing technology that people already knew how to use

• making it worthwhile to share experiences and collect information

• applying what they learned in the moment

In other words, they successfully used collaborative learning technology to open up the learning process and better compete.

The balloon hunt story illuminates the happy ending many business leaders want to script into their project environments — getting people to use collaborative learning technology to improve business results.

If you’re a business leader, you know you need to invest in technology that enables people to integrate skills development into their workflows (in addition to classroom and e-learning opportunities). And if your people are like most, they want to keep learning and bettering their performance in ways that are personally motivating, minimally invasive, professionally relevant, integrated with work projects, and easy to use.

What’s great about collaborative learning technologies is that people learn and develop skills while they work, which makes an immediate impact. The focus of collaborative learning is on peers of all levels asking questions and sharing experiences for a common purpose—to develop a skill, to adapt a practice, to solve a problem, to share a lesson—to change the way they work. In this way, collaborative learning technologies help companies deliver work products that improve job performance—the only real proof that learning takes place.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is learning with others by capitalizing on different skills and experiences to solve problems faster and get better results. Collaborative learning technologies connect people and social tools while they work.

Learning problems solved

Done right, collaborative learning allows companies to embed the business value of learning from others into work and learning processes. Collaborative learning technologies solve time, adoption and skills problems by being:

• closer to workstations

• practice-focused and applicable to your job in present time

• experiential and dynamic with real-time case studies

• more socially interactive with peers, experts and instructors

• at the point of need where lessons can mean more


Collaborative learning isn’t new. In fact, learning from each other is as old as time. Often adopting collaborative learning technology lags behind because the confidence to implement comes only when you see or experience successful models of web-based technology creating environments for people to collaborate. And although you probably won’t run a test as elaborate as the nationwide balloon quest in your organization, testing is good and you do want to know some approaches and strategies to get the implementation right.

Wherever your team or business is in its collaborative learning technologies story, here are a few principles for successfully launching and adopting collaborative, web-based learning in a project environment.

Engaging in mind share

The winning team in the balloon hunt sent invitations to friends, asking them to invite their friends to participate. The collaboration had a clear intent: they targeted people interested in social information flow, they used familiar technology to keep the focus on the task, and they divvied up the potential prize money as an incentive to get everyone’s undivided attention.

Getting the context right

Content matters, but it’s the context that defines the experience — the right mix of people, content, tools and purpose that make your effort meaningful. Additionally, it’s the freedom to learn and share with peers who are important to your work, the good feeling you get from contributing, the sheer gratification of helping others, the surprise of a new point of view, and the usefulness of what you learn to your job performance.

Using the right technology

Like the people behind the balloon hunt, you need to invest in finding the right technology by paying attention to what technologies people already use to solve problems and learn together. Investing in technology with a broad range of social and learning functionality and then testing its value internally before applying lessons learned to new applications for your customers is key.

Use contests, stories and gaming elements like badges, to encourage people to fully experience the social tools and voice their opinions on the potential of the technology.

Like the story of the winning collaboration on the balloon hunt, if you want to compete, you need to open up the learning process to web-based collaborative technologies that get all the brains in the game for faster learning and better results.