3 Reasons Why Collaborative Learning Needs to Be Part of Your Social Learning Strategy

Chris Browning
Written by
Chris Browning

Design Tips for Mentoring and Collaborative Learning Programs

Collaborative LearningSocial learning remains a hot topic for organizations, especially as they try to ensure that they are leveraging the latest and greatest methodologies for developing their workforces. To make the most of this trend, your social learning strategy should include collaborative learning as a core element.

Collaborative and social—you might think they are the same thing. However, by collaborative learning, I mean something that is both more intentional and involves a level of commitment that goes beyond simply sharing a video or commenting on an article. I am talking about processes wherein people agree to work toward learning goals in an intentional way over a period of time, regardless of whether the manner in which they do it is called mentoring, coaching, cohort learning, or something else.

Why might you need to make sure collaborative learning is part of your social learning strategy? Here are three reasons why.

Reason #1: The 70-20-10.

Most of us know it by now: the concept that, when it comes to learning, workers learn about 70% through on-the-job experience, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal education events. While collaborative learning can play a role in all three of those modes, for the sake of this blog, let’s agree to focus on just the 20 for now.

Interacting with others is an important part of the learning process, because in today’s knowledge ecology, context plays a critical role in learning. By context, I mean learning in context, or having someone who has walked the path prior to the learner and can direct them on how the learning can be applied to the specific job role, culture, etc. This is one of the reasons why our philosophy and solution moves beyond static, self-directed content. As humans, we crave the opportunity to discuss what it is we are learning so that we can test our hypothesis, debrief our struggles, and celebrate our successes throughout the learning process. In short, we want to collaborate!

Reason #2: It’s Second Nature to Millennials.

Group mentoring

The Millennial generation grew up collaborating with others. Taught to do so by a combination of factors, including the emergence of social networking and evolving approaches to teamwork in education, most Millennials will first turn to another person for guidance before turning to a book or static source of content. Teamwork in education has taught them to feel more comfortable asking their peers for advice, resulting in a generation that is a bit more inquisitive than prior generations (in my opinion). In the past, not knowing was often seen as a weakness, resulting in a hesitation to ask for help or to ask questions at all out of fear for being seen as unknowledgeable. However, Millennials have flipped that idea. In fact, Millennials are so good at asking “why” that I have seen a shift in organizational acceptance of this behavior over the last five years or so. Someone with an inquisitive approach is now often seen as someone who has a good “learning orientation.”

It was not that long ago that Millennials coming into the workforce were often viewed as annoying because they asked “why” so much. Now, however, I see the older generations (Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) asking more questions themselves—and that’s a good thing! Allow, encourage, and enable collaborative learning to be a part of your overarching social learning strategy! If you don’t, you will miss opportunities to transfer knowledge, and may just turn off multiple generations by not actively supporting collaborative learning. It used to be that not offering such opportunities pushed your Millennials to leave; now you risk multiple generations feeling like your approaches to development are behind the times.

Reason #3: The Necessary Quest for Innovation.

Collaboration for new ideas

Very few innovations are developed in a vacuum. Most involve collaboration and the collection of multiple minds working on a problem.

If you asked an organization whether or not innovating was critical to the future success of their company, it’s a safe bet all would say yes. Yet, so many organizations lack the discipline and supporting mechanisms to encourage and ensure such innovation takes place. Mainly, they don’t truly direct collaboration to occur in an intentional and goal-focused way (and no, launching some type of loosely-organized social networking tool masquerading as a learning tool will not suffice). Employees welcome collaboration, but they often need a semblance of structure and direction to turn their time/energy investment in collaboration into a productive result. Give them what they need to succeed!

Most learning doesn’t happen via a single moment of epiphany, but instead through a back-and-forth, trial-and-error process. Such processes are best supported by the inclusion of others in conversation (across multiple generations, functions, divisions, etc.), who can suggest, challenge, and provide feedback to the learning process. This is why collaborative learning needs to be front and center of any social learning strategy.

Want more tips? Check out our How to Guide for Creating Learning Networks eBook.

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