3 Myths about Collaborative Learning

Written by
Randy Emelo

Collaborative Learning Myths Are Busted

Think you know what your employees want when it comes to collaboration and knowledge sharing in the workplace?  In a 2013 benchmarking study by Towards Maturity called “New Learning Agenda,” researchers found that:
3 Collaborative Learning Myths

  • 88% of learners want to be able to learn at their own pace.
  • 77% of learners want to engage with online learning.
  • Four out of five people are willing to share what they know with others online.
  • Seven out of 10 people are motivated by using tools that will help them network and learn from others.
  • 86% said they learn what they need to know for work by collaborating with others.

It’s that last statistic that should make us all pause.  If 86% of our employees are learning what they need to know for work by collaborating with others, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing enough to support this practice and make it effective?  Inaccurate assumptions about what workers desire and expect from a learning and collaboration network can stymie innovations and adversely affect organizations.  This is also true of assumptions regarding the best way to form networks or assumptions about why people participate.  Ending these preconceived notions is critical in order for the greatest impact to be felt through enterprise-wide knowledge sharing.  Here are three myths about collaborative learning networks and how you can combat them.

Myth #1: People only want to connect with like-minded individuals, such as those in their same job function or discipline.

Learning CollaborationFact: Today’s knowledge workers see the value of expanding their learning networks beyond just those people in their department or location, and they embrace building a diverse network of collaborators from across the spectrum of the organization.  This helps them gain broader insights from people who may have a unique perspective or practice on a similar organizational problem or issue.  People realize that when they connect with peers in other departments, divisions, functional areas, and locations, they can access the collective knowledge of people who may experience similar situations as they do, but who have very different approaches and views for tackling these problems.

Myth #2: The greatest knowledge sharing value is gained from connecting with those higher up in the organization.

Fact: This collaborative myth stems from lingering perceptions around the antiquated practice of traditional mentoring, which typically focuses on a lower level employee seeking guidance and wisdom from someone higher up. That said, the focus of more expansive learning collaboration and knowledge sharing today has broadened—or more accurately, flattened.  People use inclusive collaborative learning and knowledge sharing networks to build credibility based on competence, not solely for political posturing.  They see the value of searching for collaborators at all levels of the organization, and seek out people who could use their expertise or who have the information they need, regardless of job title or organizational authority.  For example, subordinates can help more senior leaders understand how their decisions affect those below them in the organizational hierarchy, as well as help sensitize them to the needs of those below them.  Peers can be a great source of social support and encouragement, since they understand and experience the same organizational pressures, which can lead to breakthrough insight and advice.  Superiors can help knowledge seekers understand the big picture, practice foresight, handle more complex issues, and prepare for larger responsibilities.

Myth #3: Knowledge sharing should occur within pre-existing, familiar networks.

Team working togetherFact: Learning networks function differently than our personal networks (like LinkedIn, Facebook, and so on), which typically grow as we encounter other professionals, but remain largely unchanged when it comes to people exiting or changing roles within our pre-constructed network(s).  The inherent value in an open and inclusive knowledge network is that it will change and morph over time, as individuals’ learning needs change and grow.  Colleagues with diverse points of view and values will come and go within these networks, they will play different roles at different times, and they will bring with them new connections and new insights as time goes on.  Keeping a fresh and ever-changing network of collaborators from throughout the organization will push people to look beyond what they already know so they can explore the emerging opportunities before them.

As advocates for collaborative learning and knowledge sharing, rather than perpetuate these preconceived and incorrect notions through inaction, we should encourage and educate people to get outside of their own typical work networks when looking for new insights and ideas or when developing new skills and capabilities. For it is in this type of open and progressive collaborative behavior that the greatest potential for deep and meaningful learning lies.

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