Social and Collaborative Learning

8th January 2015

It’s well-documented that collaborative working practices can help improve productivity in the workplace. The sharing of knowledge has many benefits to an organisation such as improved workflows and better teamwork. What this adds up to essentially, is a more profitable business which retains valuable knowledge and fosters a healthy company culture.

Within the organisation, it’s often the intranet that’s the driver for this and if it’s to be effective, then it must be designed to engage employees and ensure they have the necessary tools to help them do their jobs more effectively. The modern intranet has undergone something of a transformation in recent years and now employs social tools such as wikis, blogs, instant messaging, video conferencing, shared workspaces and more. This too has been applied to workplace training and can be found on LMS platforms to enable better learning.

Collaborative learning is an approach which allows students to work together and with instructors, to enrich learning through interaction with others. This enables students to share knowledge and benefit from each other’s strengths. It also facilitates better teamwork as students can be made collectively responsible for completing tasks.

Applying Social to Learning

Research has found that although many employees consider self-directed study more useful than company training, 90% of those questioned in a survey said that collaborative working within [a] team is ‘essential’ or ‘very important’. Supporting this, conversations, feeds, personal and professional networking, curated content and using Google to search the Web, are also rated very highly. From this we can see that workers not only recognise the value of training but are also autonomous in discovering their own information to help fuel their learning.

It’s been suggested that social media is already having an impact on workplace training as it underpins the natural, continuous social learning that takes place every day (sic) in the workflow as part of doing a job.’ This, according to Jane Hart, often takes place under the radar of IT and L&D’ even when the use of social media is discouraged or even banned completely by the organisation.

To overcome what could then be described as shadow learning’, organisations should build social tools into the LMS and ensure that these and the LMS itself are engaging in order to capture and retain the student’s attention. To achieve this, it’s necessary to ensure that content is well-integrated into the community aspects of the LMS and that ideally, it’s co-created by learners themselves. If the emphasis is placed on interaction, conversation and knowledge sharing, then learners, being social animals at their heart, will become further engaged with the learning platform.

Employees Already Use Social for Learning?

It’s important for L&D professionals to recognise that most learning occurs in the workplace already and that workers are utilising social media as a tool to enhance knowledge. This practice means that many employees take responsibility for their own learning and this should be encouraged by implementing tools on the LMS to enable autonomous learning in a more official environment.

By promoting informal and social learning within the office culture, Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) skills (thought to be a fundamental skill in social and collaborative learning’) can be developed further. This means working with employees in order to better identify the solutions which are best for them too, rather than simply putting the technology in place. Teams can then participate in creating shared content such as wikis, and communities whereby employees can monitor and track their own training progress. So for the L&D professional, creating successful training through the use of social and collaborative tools, is as much about managing a community as it is managing the LMS.

With this in mind it is important when implementing social tools on the LMS, to think in terms of ‘learn, plan and do.’

  • Learn the LMS should provide the tools for employees to be able to effectively communicate and share knowledge, as well as other, relevant course materials.
  • Plan shared spaces such as messages boards and wikis should be provided to enable communities in which learners and teachers can come together and plan out projects.
  • Do collaborative practices should be encouraged so that learners can act on what they learn individually and within a team.

As a minimum then, the modern learning portal should offer the following tools to enable collaborative learning:

  • M-learning
  • Instant messaging
  • Wikis and blogs
  • Shared workspaces
  • Message boards
  • Video conferencing

In order for these to engage, it’s useful to have at least one person within the organisation who can act as an advocate and encourage the use of social tools in others. Employee engagement has always been something of a sticking point for many enterprises, so it’s also important that the LMS is well-designed, with good UX (User Experience) so that workers remain engaged. Social learning in itself encourages engagement, as does gamification and micro learning (breaking down course content into smaller modules) so it’s important to integrate these in order to boost engagement as much as possible.

There’s little doubt that collaborative and social tools provide a means to boost learning and workplace productivity. For the L&D professional, the key to success is in how these tools are implemented on the LMS in such a way that they engage workers. As is often the case in business, the key to this is in the planning and as such, this should be approached with clear goals in mind. These should of course align with business processes and ideally, should involve those who will be actually using the LMS often to gain a better understanding of its real-life use. Course materials should ideally be kept relatively chunked to further encourage engagement, mobile learning should play a part, as should the growth of communities. Once all of this is in place, organisations can then benefit from the use of social tools and collaborative practices in the workplace and their e-learning activities.

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