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Jun 19, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Training on the Edge: Trend 2 - Collaboration As A Competency

Businesspeople collaborating and coming together as a team

This is part of a series of posts exploring current issues facing training professionals and the upcoming trends in training for the next five years.

In this series we will examine what the current learning statistics show about the outlook for the modern workplace and the next five years, as well as four key trends associated with adapting training to the new context. As these trends play out, we need to consider how to implement a culture change in our training organizations and identify some of the challenges these changes will bring.

Trend 2 - Collaboration as a Competency

The problem with online collaboration in particular is that we introduce a lot of ambiguity. As learners, when nobody knows who's in charge of the learning experience, that role ambiguity can lead to learning inefficiencies. Instead of just tossing everyone into the virtual classroom and asking learners to "figure out this case study," best practices need to ensure that we allow everyone to participate in the learning experience but with a strong facilitator leading the way.

To make collaborative learning effective we need to:

  • Set expectations.

  • Assign tasks.

  • Give goals and expected outcomes.

So, what do you need to set the stage for effective collaboration?  You need to make sure you have designed interactions, a strong facilitator, and managed expectations.

Designed Interactions

We need to design for the collaborative experience so that exercises are built with a set of roles in mind.

For example, let's say there are five different tasks that have to be accomplished. This means that you would want to build a group of five for your collaborative problem-solving approach. You don't want to have more people than that because any additional people won't have a task and, as such, probably wouldn't be as engaged in the learning experience.   

Beware! Don't fall into the trap of trying to collaborate 'just because.' So many technologies are invading our lives that it is starting to feel strange when we aren’t tweeting, posting, or participating in group work. In this age of interconnectedness, people wave the banner of collaboration regularly. However, collaboration is often seen as the desired outcome, and we focus on this engagement strategy rather than the TRUE learning outcomes. 

The Facilitator as Learning Leader

The facilitator in a virtual classroom needs to be a true learning leader and not just someone who gives direction. He or she has to model behaviors, recognize when recommendations or suggestions are appropriate and help guide those collaborative problem-solving groups along so they can learn by doing.

This really boils down to creating a learner-centered environment by balancing a constructivist, self-directed approach against a highly structured approach. You want to give people the freedom to learn the best way they can from the problem-based learning experience while at the same time guiding them along so they develop real domain expertise.

Assessment and Attribution

It's important to understand that those same New Blend advantages we've already discussed also pose particular challenges, most notably in the assessment and attribution of learners. When the learner is online, how do we know they're doing what they say they are doing? How do we know they are who they say they are? We will have to make sure that there is some fidelity in the learning process and that the person awarded for success actually the one doing the work.

Stretching the Calendar

Another challenge is that problem-based learning and collaboration online have some very strict requirements associated with periodicity. You spend too little time on either approach and it becomes less meaningful, because people don't have time to develop or complete their task for the next stage of the problem. But spend too much time and people become disinterested or otherwise disengaged, because it becomes irrelevant or stale. We have to make sure that the calendar is not stretched too far or compressed too tightly.

Team/Interpersonal Dynamics

One of the strengths of traditional instruction that online collaboration does not have is the idea of managing interpersonal dynamics. If we have a group of learners in a virtual classroom, we have to make sure that the learning environment remains safe and that everyone feels comfortable participating.

One of the dangers is that strong personalities can dominate a collaborative online problem-solving session, so we have to manage the interpersonal dynamics, as well as the learning experience, to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate and get something out of it.

One of the benefits of the virtual classroom is that by building situated problem-based learning, we build problems that actually need solving within our business. These problems can then become learning experiences, and we need to develop the capability to moderate a collaborative problem-based solution session. This means modeling the right behaviors and providing guidance when appropriate, but otherwise remaining mostly hands-off.

This goes back to the need to develop real examples of success, making it relevant - just as you can build a problem that actually needs solving and use it for training experience and business benefit, you can also build problems that are easily measurable so that learners can easily identify what they did and did not do well. Learners want that kind of closure in a collaborative environment.

In a future series, we'll explore this concept of "Collaboration as a Competency" in more depth, including how consumers (lurkers) and contributors both support the collaborative environment and how to measure the quantity and quality of collaboration.

Up next: Trend 3 - Cognitive and Facilitative Technology.

In the meantime, you can learn more about designing a collaborative environment by downloading our latest complimentary whitepaper, Enabling Virtual Learners by Design, by clicking on the picture below. 

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Published by Jennifer Hofmann June 19, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann