Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Low-Tech Ways to Add Social and Collaborative Learning To Your Training Plans

By Shelley A. Gable

I think we've all heard the buzz about social and collaborative learning. Based on their research, Bersin & Associates suggests that "modern" corporate training organizations are transitioning to collaborative, talent-driven learning. A survey conducted by The MASIE Center earlier this year indicates a similar trend. Many blog posts have contemplated how Web 2.0 technologies can enhance workplace learning. In fact, a post on this blog a few months ago (Understanding Web 2.0) offers an informative crash course on the topic.

All this chatter prompts me to think about constructivism. Constructivist theory posits that people construct knowledge by making sense of their experiences. The theory also acknowledges the important role that social interaction plays in this. And really, it's these concepts that are at the core of this trend. The technologies of Web 2.0 provide us with ways to reach out to others, discuss what's on our mind, and ultimately attempt to make sense of the world around us.

If you're like the majority of organizations who responded to The MASIE Center survey, you may be intrigued by what Web 2.0 can offer, but not in a position just yet to take full advantage of it. If this is the case, consider how some of the low-tech collaborative learning options below might work for your organization.

  1. Provide a discussion forum for learners to post their insights from training. A simple discussion board can easily be set up on a Microsoft SharePoint site or on other types of intranet sites. Consider directing learners to post "ah ha" learnings, plans for applying what they've just learned, and/or unanswered questions from training. Asking learners to post their thoughts at key points during training not only prompts reflection, but also allows them to learn from others' insights. Requiring learners to use the discussion forum multiple times during the training and/or at suggested intervals after the training can help deepen the dialogue and enhance its interactivity.

  2. Assign learners to a partner or group to discuss the training via email. This medium can be used in a way similar to the discussion forum described above.

  3. Design a structured conversation for the learner to have with a manager about the training. In order for the lessons learned from training to transfer to the job, they must be reinforced by the learners' managers. Providing structure for a learner to discuss the training with a manager can be an effective way to encourage this. Such a conversation could take place at a specified point during or after the training, and it could aim to accomplish the type of reflection described in #1 above.

If you're among those who are interested in dabbling in collaborative learning, consider easing into it with one of these low-tech approaches. And if you do, be sure to use Web 2.0 (blog comments, Twitter, whatever your tool of choice) to tell the rest of us how it worked out.


  1. Shelley, great thoughts and great practical and practicable suggestions. The 3rd idea -- structured conversation between learner and manager -- can be supported by an LMS with notification abilities. A note to the manager when the learner enrolls in or launches the course becomes a "communication plan" to let him/her know the learning event is coming up and that the meeting is expected to follow. After course completion, the LMS can send a meeting reminder and even an agenda template with specific talking points and a place for the learner to communicate take-aways and post-training commitments to the manager.

    This is of course very low tech, but it is a critical touch point that keeps the manager involved in the learner's activities and ensures that learning is an ongoing process instead of a one-time event.

  2. Thanks for the comment Chris! I really like your suggestion about having an LMS automatically send a meeting agenda to the learner's manager - that didn't cross my mind. I just might have to look into that for a project I'm about to finish up.

  3. Thanks so much for this post. There is very good and helpful information in this post. Keep up the good work.
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