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Collaborative Learning in the Workplace: How Colleagues Become Fellow Educators

Contextualising Collaborative Learning for the Workplace

Collaborative learning is a unique pedagogical approach that works best with mature learners (Clark, n.d.), and in a professional setting (Baragwanath, 2021) in which each and every learner makes a unique contribution to the teaching and learning experience.

In a professional setting like the workplace, everyone has a unique contribution they can make based on their own experiences and knowledge. While this diversity, which social psychologists categorise and refer to as ‘worldview’ or ‘informational/opinion’ diversity (Kumar, 2023; Phillips, Kim-Jun and Shim, 2011), can lead to conflicting perspectives and behaviour; progressive organisations believe in mobilising this diversity to promote collaborative learning through which employees can learn from one another.

With the growing focus towards lifelong learning and enhancement of learning agility in the constantly changing business world, collaborative learning plays a vital role in modern workplace settings. Since learning in the 21st century is intricately linked to organisational success, leaders should ensure that they take a learning-focused approach to management (Tenney, 2023). However, the focus towards learning should not disrupt the core objectives and operations of the organisation and instead fit spontaneously into place.

Even though collaborative learning is a recognised and tested pedagogical approach in purely academic or educational settings where learning is the core objective; this is not the case when it comes to workplace settings where learning is an auxiliary objective. Though formal collaborative learning sessions might not be commonly facilitated; informal collaborative learning sessions could be facilitated to enhance employees’ knowledge of the latest developments in the sector as well as to enhance employee engagement and interaction. When problem-solving and decision-making are required, a collaborative approach could be beneficial to ensure commitment to quality, sustainability, and inclusivity; simultaneously providing opportunities for collaborative learning.

How does Collaborative Learning take place in the Workplace?

In the workplace, collaborative learning can take place in multiple forms. The most common form is when handling projects working in a group/team. As a group/team member, it is important to communicate with each other, brainstorm ideas and formulate, plan and implement a shared course of action. While collaborative working can guide the project towards success; reflecting on the collaborative work can be a powerful collaborative learning experience (Murray, 2015).  

Staff meetings as well as other rounds of discussions and negotiations can be powerful opportunities for collaborative learning. By creating a meeting atmosphere where every individual can freely and openly discuss ideas and opinions, leaders encourage collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning can also take the form of peer-to-peer interactions and leader-to-follower interactions. Although the interactions are interpersonal; a culture of learning amongst work colleagues, beyond professional ties and hierarchy, is established.

Social gatherings and lunchtime activities can also be informal strategies to foster collaborative learning. Although the focus on learning might not come to the limelight, theme-based events can be phenomenally successful in fostering collaboration that can enhance group effectiveness and efficacy.

Formal collaborative learning sessions can be organised by organisations to enhance the critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills of employees. Although specific resources such as hiring of personnel and utilising training and development budgets have to be accessed, these sessions can be instrumental in developing the capacity of the employees that can boost organisational success.

The Pros of Collaborative Learning in the Workplace

Collaborative Learning in the workplace can result in a wide array of benefits for employees as well as the organisation. For the employees, collaborative learning can ensure the transfer of new knowledge and skills without making specific individual efforts. In the professional and busy life of an individual, one may complain that he/she does not find adequate time for learning. Collaborative learning can be quite resourceful for such individuals to utilise day-to-day opportunities to enhance professional development and attain career success (Mesquita, 2020).

Furthermore, collaborative learning in the workplace can empower professionals to broaden their horizons of thinking and to become more open-minded. The diversity of ideas and suggestions and the intensity of dialogue and discussion can prompt both attitudinal and behavioural change. Furthermore, collaborative learning opportunities can foster a sense of community in the workplace which would enhance the intrinsic motivation of staff to contribute proactively towards organisational aims.

For the organisation, collaborative learning ensures; an empowered workforce that is up to date with the latest developments in the sector, professionals who have broadened their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and staff who are committed to achieving common goals with a sense of community, team spirit and motivation. Most importantly, collaborative learning ensures that high performers in an organisation share their knowledge and expertise with others ensuring that there is an emphasis on a collective work culture where everyone works together to achieve organisational goals (James, 2022).

Challenges to Collaborative Learning in the Workplace

Though the pedagogy may result in unfathomable gains, its implementation is not always very straightforward. Multiple challenges disrupt collaborative learning. Among many, the major impediment lies in the learners themselves: their hesitance to engage, share and learn. When professionals do not possess the eagerness to enhance their knowledge and skills, collaborative learning processes become dysfunctional. Furthermore, facilitators may find it challenging to ensure that all group members contribute equally and that an egalitarian learning culture exists without the fear of both ‘domination’ and ‘submission’.

How Colleagues Become Fellow Educators

In conclusion, collaborative learning can be recognised as a powerful pedagogy ideal for professional development. Every workplace should ideally be a professional learning community where professionals can further their experience and expertise. Collaborative Learning assists organisations to enhance both the knowledge and skills of the workforce and empowers them to carry out day-to-day functions and roles more effectively. It builds a sense of community and enables quality engagement and interaction with fellow colleagues.

When collaborative learning becomes a norm in an organisation a ‘sharing and caring’ culture is evidenced. This is because each employee views the other as a fellow educator from whom they can learn from. Thus, interpersonal relationships are strengthened and enriched with mutual respect and consideration.

At LSME, we believe in the power of collaborative learning. This is evidenced not only in the utilisation of this pedagogy in our higher education provision; but, also in our organisational culture. Staff at LSME are given ample opportunities to collaborate through both formal and informal channels. Every colleague is considered a fellow educator irrespective of their level of academic attainment, age, or seniority. Our open-door policy enables every staff member to voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns. We believe in constructive collaboration and teamwork and when we work together, we do not forget to learn from each other and to position ourselves as role models for numerous others to follow.

References

Baragwanath, T. (2021) ‘3 Prime Examples of Collaborative Learning in the Workplace’, eLearning Industry, 13 July. Available at: https://elearningindustry.com/examples-of-collaborative-learning-in workplace#:~:text=Collaborative%20Learning%20is%20a%20training,%2C%20ideas%2C%20and%20institutional%20knowledge (Accessed: 07 June 2023).

Clark, J.F. (n.d.) The Role of Cooperative Education in the Adult Learning Environment. Available at: http://horizon.unc.edu/conferences/lc/papers/18.html (Accessed: 08 June 2023).

James, D. (2022) ‘Collaborative Learning: What is it and why is it Revolutionizing Learning and Development?’, Forbes, 04 March. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2022/03/04/collaborative-learning-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-revolutionizing-learning-and-development/?sh=681bc3194b93 (Accessed: 08 June 2023).

Kumar, R. (2023) ‘What Are the 4 Types of Diversity?’, Alliant International University Blog, 24 May. Available at: https://www.alliant.edu/blog/what-are-4-types-diversity (Accessed: 06 June 2023).

Mesquita, S. (2020). ‘Collaborative Learning Benefits and its Influence on Career Success’, Pepperdine Business Blog, 19 June. Available at: https://bschool.pepperdine.edu/blog/posts/collaborative-learning-influences-career-success.htm (Accessed: 08 June 2023).

Murray, E. (2015) ‘Improving Teaching Through Collaborative Reflective Teaching Cycles’. Investigations in Mathematics Learning 7(3). The Research Council on Mathematics Learning. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1057515.pdf (Accessed: 07 June 2023).

Phillips, K.W., Kim-Jun, S.Y. and Shim, S. (2011) The Value of Diversity in Organisations: A Social Psychological Perspective. In Cremer, D.D., Dick, R. and Murnighan, J.K. (ed.) Social Psychology and Organisations. London: Routledge. pp. 253 – 271.

Tenney, M. (2023) Why A Learning Culture Is So Important for Success. Business Leadership Today. Available et: https://businessleadershiptoday.com/why-a-learning-culture-is-so-important-for-success/ (Accessed: 07 June 2023).

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