Collaborative Learning is a process in which two or more individuals obtain knowledge together, or in a group setting. Such events may include participation by an individual who facilitates the mutual learning process, but who does not act in a traditional instructor role.
In the rapidly evolving field of training, clearly one of the most dynamic segments is the category regarded as collaborative learning. Paired with its equally popular sibling, “social learning,” the two have emerged as a separate e-learning platform category where they stand alongside administration, content authoring and delivery.
They have earned such status because of the growing demand for collaborative and social learning opportunities, and the proliferation of technologies and tools that help enable them. The Internet, mobile devices, blogs, wikis, social networks and knowledge repositories make both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration an inviting way for people to share insights and knowledge.
Collaborative learning is a form of social learning that is distinctive in one respect: Individuals learn along with others, not from an instructor or expert. Regardless of whether collaborative learners are novices or relative experts in their fields, knowledge flows both ways.
In its simplest form, collaborative involves two people learning together. But increasingly, it involves groups such as work teams whose members assemble physically or virtually for a discovery-based learning experience.
Such events are often sponsored by an organization and overseen by a facilitator who might be a subject matter expert. That individual promotes discovery by assigning work, orchestrating discussions and suggesting research. But he or she does not instruct in a traditional sense.
Collaborative learning may be confused with “peer-to-peer” learning. But as commonly defined, “P-to-P” involves coaching, mentoring and other performance-related instruction. Another related term is “discovery-based learning.” The distinction here is that self-directed individuals discover as they go, but don’t necessarily need to collaborate to do so.
Training professionals have identified a variety of popular collaboration methods. Among them:
- Communities of practice. This time-honored learning method convenes individuals within a specific industry or field who share a common interest in evolving in their specialty, both personally and professionally. Typically, organizations create such communities as private learning entities for selected participants to meet physically and/or virtually for collaboration. Technologies such as web-based knowledge repositories have expanded the utility of the communities, which are normally overseen by a facilitator.
- Team learning. Individuals with shared problems can often meet their common challenges by engaging virtually or physically in teams. With or without the help of a facilitator, they can employ the concept to share valuable knowledge and experiences.
- Knowledge transfer and sharing. When organizations wish to promote the sharing of information about their products and services among customers and other stakeholders, they can create a sense of community via dedicated web sites, blogs and other devices.
- Networked learning. Collaborative learning from shared experiences is often a principal goal of networks created by businesses and organizations around products, technologies and other common concerns. Blogs, podcasts, knowledge repositories and other social media tools are often employed to spur the information flow.
As earlier noted, collaborative and social learning technologies have emerged as a fourth e-learning platform. The principal reason is the emergence of collaborative technologies such as blogs, knowledge repositories and social networks that enable true collaborative learning.
Another reason is the growing maturity of so-called “collaboration technologies” that help comprise the delivery platform mentioned above.
Although collaborative learning can be achieved on these virtual delivery platforms, the services are commonly employed and marketed for non-training uses such as online meetings and conferences. When employed for training-related purposes, uses often involve webinars, virtual instructor-led training (vILT) and other non-collaborative purposes.
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