Collaboration is the key to being a successful learning organization. Social learning in the workplace plays a big part in a collaborative learning environment. In this article, I will share my thoughts on how collaborative tools can help employees learn better and improve their work performance.
How Collaboration And Social Learning In The Workplace Improve Employee Performance
Human beings have been collaborating since eons to solve problems and share experiences. Probably, the first-ever collaboration was when cavemen shared their insights on fire-making through various paintings, which was passed down through generations. Before the era of printing, people collaborated and “remembered” the content that was taught and passed it down to their children.
Collaboration Is An Old Story
But the question is “Does collaboration between individuals aid learning, or is it only a means of sharing information and experiences?”.
Researchers in the last century have tried to understand learning processes in social situations through various studies. Most notably, followers of Vygotsky’s sociocultural psychology have tried to understand the role of social situations, symbols, ideas, and shared meanings in aiding the learning process.
What Do Researchers Say?
There have been many other researchers who have talked about this in length.
“The emphasis on finding and describing ‘knowledge structures’ that are somewhere ‘inside’ the individual encourages us to overlook the fact that human cognition is always situated in a complex sociocultural world and cannot be unaffected by it.”
Researchers have called the sharing of knowledge, or distribution of knowledge in groups, as distributed cognition. Distributed cognition proposes that human knowledge and cognition are not confined to the individual. Instead, it is distributed by placing memories, facts, or knowledge on the objects, individuals, and tools in our environment. Distributed cognition is what we get in social situations.
Another term that describes learning by doing is situated cognition, as explained by Vygotsky. Situated cognition posits that knowing is inseparable from doing. The situation cognition theorists argue that all knowledge is situated in activities bound to social, cultural, and physical contexts.
These theories lead us to state that learning happens through collaboration between individuals who share their experiences and knowledge for common good.
The salient points of collaborative learning are:
- Socialization (social learning in the workplace)
- Collaboration for self-development
Need For Collaboration In The Workplace
Collaboration and social learning in the workplace are emphasized today greatly, as work itself has become quite complex and team-based. In today’s world, the structure, content, and process of work have changed.
People need to have good social skills to get information, as work has become more time-pressured. People are also depending more on smartphones or mobile phones for information and learning new things
Organizations are trying to create conditions in which employees learn through relationships with coworkers. This relationship for sharing experiences and learning is also known as informal/social learning in the workplace. Through the learning relationships, employees solve problems together, share insights, and learn from mistakes.
Limitations Of Traditional Training Methods
Traditional training methods are useful in disseminating procedural and policy changes. They are useful agents of communicating the change to the employees. They act as corrective measures and are an excellent way to bring many people from diverse backgrounds together in one place. In that sense, they act as a platform for greater sharing of knowledge and expertise.
The limitation of traditional learning methods is that they don’t solve problems of here and now. An employee may be facing some issue at their work. It could be related to some technology or some work practice. It has been observed that employees tend to ask their colleagues for help rather than look up manuals. In a collaborative atmosphere or in a workplace, knowledge is disseminated through informal social networks in the workplace, enabling social learning.
Tools For Collaboration In The Workplace
Given that people in organizations are collaborating on diverse projects, there is a great need to use the right tools at the right time to enable social learning at work.
The tools that can be used for collaboration at work can be aggregated based on the time and place of collaboration.
The list of tools is given below:
Same Time/Same Place
- Face to face interactions
- Decision rooms
- Single display groupware
- Shared table
- Wall displays
Same Time/Different Place
- Remote interactions
- Video conferencing
- Instant messaging
- Virtual worlds
- Shared screens
- Multi-user editors
Different Time/Same Place
- Continuous task
- Team rooms
- Large public display
- Project Management
Different Time/Different Place
- Communication and coordination
- Email, bulletin boards, blogs
- Asynchronous conferencing
- Group calendars
- Version control
The use of tools for collaboration in the workplace tells us that they are reducing the learning cycle time and the dependence on the traditional modes of learning.
Benefits Of A Collaborative Learning Environment
Collaborative learning environments support cognitive, social, motivational, and effective processes of learning. For example, shared workspaces and communication tools can provide a natural setting for detailed discussion, knowledge transfer, knowledge dissemination, and host of other demanding cognitive activities.
Forums that are universally used for informal chit-chat and knowledge sharing can be effectively used in collaborative environments. The forums have a “threaded”-based messaging feature that helps track all the message under one topic.
Similarly, all chat sessions and discussions using web collaborative technologies can be archived for documentation purposes. Documenting the discussions would help the teams to enhance their knowledge and skills, and apply them at appropriate times. This enhances social learning at work.
Collaborative technologies go a long way in helping organizations realize long-term growth through healthy learning environments.
Traditional learning paradigms will have their place, but collaborative learning technologies will continue to evolve rapidly and make learning in the 21st century a truly enjoyable and meaningful experience. Social learning in the workplace will continue to make rapid strides.
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