Author Profile Picture

Tim Sarchet

Nomadic Learning, a strategic partner of The Josh Bersin Academy

COO & co-founder

Read more from Tim Sarchet

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Why collaboration is key to learning in the ‘new normal’

We might be working more remotely, but learning still needs to happen together.

The Covid-19 pandemic put corporate training in a state of upheaval with instructor-led, in-person training being curtailed. But job roles, business processes and work situations are being reinvented seemingly every day, which has necessitated a constant supply of ad hoc learning to provide employees with the necessary skills and capabilities. At the same time, many employees are spending most of their days at computers and on Zoom calls and suffering the inevitable digital fatigue.

Collaborative learning can help managers work together to establish new ways of communicating and managing dispersed workforces, while also supporting greater team agility and employee empowerment.

Thanks to revenue disruptions and business uncertainty, corporate training budgets are under massive pressure. While the online training content libraries most companies now utilise can meet some learning needs, their effectiveness is limited and typically confined to defined, often static, subject areas.

Many online resources are also, frankly, less than gripping – and that’s a critical issue. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I learn”. Ensuring learner engagement is especially important now, when employees may be easily distracted by children being at home, or work pressures.

Why ‘cohort-based’ learning using social and collaborative elements works best

Cohort-based learning is one aspect of a well-designed collaborative learning solution. In this scenario, a group of learners enters a training programme in a time-managed sequence, interacting with each other in debates, challenges and other thought-provoking exercises. Members can view comments from fellow learners and have the ability to engage in further follow-up conversations. The optimal cohort size is 40 to 50 people; smaller groups can intimidate learners, while people tend to get ‘lost’ in larger groups. We have also found that the most successful cohorts are highly diverse — that is, made up of employees with different seniority, from different geographies, and with different job roles.

Gamification of social elements within the training scheme can encourage participation and also bring a sense of competition into the learning experience. For instance, in some collaborative online learning solutions, learners have the ability to ‘vote’ on comments, with votes earning points. These points, when combined with other factors such as completion rates and quiz scores, can determine a learner’s position within the cohort. Leaderboards can be used to display scores and ranks on an ongoing basis, too.

Intentionally requiring some kind of learner interaction is another important design characteristic. Requiring learners to touch the screen or a key every three to four minutes can keep engagement high.

Likewise, best practice tells us that it’s important to vary activities throughout programmes to keep learners interested. Debates, learner challenges, thought-provoking questions, suggestions for work-related applications are just a few of the activities that can keep learners highly involved.  

Today’s learners are media-savvy and exposed to high-quality, well-produced content throughout their daily lives, so their training experience needs to reflect that with the use of high-quality mixed media. Well-designed collaborative solutions should incorporate a variety of content, along with social and collaborative activities. Note that, ideally, visual content should be short and professionally produced. Real-world case studies help make information timely and relevant, while curated resources can add supplemental learning elements for those wanting to dive deeper into a topic.

A learning approach suited to the post-pandemic world

Organisations have increasingly been looking to team-based collaborative learning to understand topic areas where there aren’t fixed remedies or protocols in place and that require critical, but more lateral ways of thinking, such as developing new leadership and communication skills for remote working.

Traditional leadership is built around hierarchy, set performance goals, structured communication and well-established decision-making protocols, but in the ‘new normal’ world, all of that has been jettisoned. Goals alter weekly and employees need to have more autonomy in decision making when face-to-face contact is no longer the norm. Collaborative learning can help managers work together to establish new ways of communicating and managing dispersed workforces, while also supporting greater team agility and employee empowerment.

Collaborative online learning is well suited for aligning and transforming teams or entire business functions. It can also facilitate a critical, rapid change, such as the move to large-scale remote working. Well-designed programmes can impart foundational knowledge to large groups and create a common vocabulary. Such learning also gives employees the opportunity to offer personal perspective as well as to process and discuss ways to apply pending changes to their jobs and work processes. Finally, collaborative online learning can also introduce employees to topics that are still evolving or emerging, but will be important to the business in the immediate future, such as AI.

Collaborative online learning is ideally suited to acquiring soft skills, such as critical thinking, clear communication, teamwork and agility. These ‘power skills’ are among those deemed most critical for today’s business world. Well-designed collaborative online learning can help hone these skills at all employee levels. In traditional corporate learning settings, such training was typically only available for the most senior employees. Collaborative solutions can cultivate these essential skills at all levels.

As we adapt to ever-changing business conditions where remote learning becomes the new normal and we upskill for a very different post-pandemic world, effective collaborative learning will rapidly become a crucial component of corporate training strategies.

Interested in this topic? Read Why social learning will be even more vital in the future of work.

Author Profile Picture
Tim Sarchet

COO & co-founder

Read more from Tim Sarchet

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to TrainingZone's newsletter