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Five ways to build a collaborative learning culture in a changing world

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As uncertainty and change rages on, it’s never been more important to bring people together to learn from one another, share ideas and solve complex problems. To do this well requires a strong, collaborative learning culture.

1st Apr 2022
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After two years of working from home, and a stop-start approach to hybrid working, learning and training has had to pivot several times. It’s still turbulent out there and what is certain is the need for organisations to create, implement and develop a culture of collaborative and continuous learning and greater opportunities for talent like never before.

There are two main factors driving this need:

1. Speed of technological change

The pandemic highlighted an increase in tech platforms being used in learning and development. We may never go back to the traditional face-to-face training model as it was before. Now we need to decide what types of learning and training can be done purely online (self-access), what can be delivered via a live trainer online and what, if any, might be retained for face-to-face delivery. All of this now needs to be high quality and designed collaboratively.

2. Hybrid and flexible working

The workplace structure has changed dramatically. Many employees are no longer commuting or carrying out standard office hours and the four-day working week is gaining momentum. Some have completely changed their working pattern and environment due to the pandemic, and do not wish to return to their original rigid structure.

Organisations offering a combination of hybrid working and flexibility are considered to be more likely to succeed in 2022. So hybrid learning will need to be aligned with this.

The main skills for 2022 and beyond are likely to be communication, curiosity, development and upskilling, problem solving and generating ideas

The trends ahead are all about collaborative, peer-to-peer learning that works for in-office, remote, and hybrid settings. Engagement is the bedrock of collaboration. People build connections by doing things together. Engaged employees are excited, enthusiastic and not only involved in their own roles, but are likely to be more committed to the success and direction of the company they are working for.

What is a collaborative learning culture?

Collaborative learning uses groups to enhance learning by working together. The group works together to learn new skills and concepts, solve problems and complete tasks. Businesses can use workshops, webinars or other training programmes that encourage employees to listen to each other’s viewpoints, articulate those points, and gain a more complete understanding as a group.

Beyond technical skills that are necessary for their role, the main skills for 2022 and beyond are likely to be communication, curiosity, development and upskilling, problem solving and generating ideas. Although you could argue that these are best delivered face-to-face, my experience as a trainer during the pandemic has taught me that there can be very rich learning experiences online that build and strengthen these ‘softer skills’.

So, what are some great ways to set up and nurture a collaborative learning culture in an environment that is still changing and uncertain?

The beauty of delivering live online sessions is that I now work across lots of different company disciplines, and for large international companies too

1. Talk to employees

Building on the various ways learning and training have pivoted in the past two years, simply ask employees what has worked for them, what they have enjoyed most, how they like to learn and what might interest them going forward.

Start here so that employees feel involved and consulted. Use the results to help you evaluate what is and is not working with your current learning culture.

2. Create more opportunities for cross-functional training

The beauty of delivering live online sessions is that I now work across lots of different company disciplines, and for large international companies too. This was much harder to do face-to-face where I often worked with a bespoke group. The soft skills needed going forward apply to everyone regardless of job role. The kinds of problems that need solving now need diverse perspectives. Get people together.

3. Dedicate time and space for peer learning

In peer learning, anyone can request or share knowledge. Provide resources for your curious employees and give them a space to spread their knowledge to other employees. This will slowly help you build a collaborative learning community. You can also encourage employees to carve out time in the week to develop and engage in peer learning.

Collaboration needs to be visible in all parts of a company. Make sure that employees feel that the ideas they bring are valuable

4. Develop a culture of coaching and mentoring

A coaching culture decentralises content by utilising in-house experts. These experts can answer questions or contextualise your company’s more traditional forms of training. Allowing employees with specialised knowledge to take the reins on training promotes leadership and initiative across your organisation. Encouraging mentoring (whether formal or informal) ensures stronger support too in a hybrid working scenario. 

5. Model collaboration

Collaboration needs to be visible in all parts of a company. Make sure that employees feel that the ideas they bring are valuable. Use online chats to keep leaders connected with their teams and find ways for people to explore their creativity and share ideas. There are lots of collaborative online learning tools out there too, that are ideal for this.

Emma Sue Prince is author of 7 Skills for the Future, published by Pearson Business, available now in all major bookstores and from Amazon. 

Interested in this topic? Read Ditching the culture of averages.

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