Sonia Wadhwa has more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry, primarily in the fields of learning technologies and business, project management methodologies and tools, organisation development practices, and operations management. She has been associated with the Compunnel Software Group, InfoPro India Pvt. Ltd., InfoPro Learning, Inc. and associated companies for more than 15 years. She brings a strong mix of technology know-how, execution skills, industry knowledge, business acumen, client relationship management and people leadership to her current roles as EVP and COO. Her strong technical academic background, and vast experience in custom learning solutions development, instructional design, technical writing, database and programming technologies, learning management technologies, and development deployment engines, have made her a strong leader in the business.
Topic: Collaborative learning : Importance of collaborative learning in today’s world
Q:How is collaborative learning different from traditional learning? How suitable /feasible is collaborative learning in a corporate environment?
For years, the traditional way we’ve learned is by simply listening to a teacher in a classroom. Even when some teachers allowed the class to be interactive, the focus was still primarily on what they were saying and what the syllabus dictated. If you look at e-learning, it has also copied the same model of learning where one listens to a voice over, watches media and text, and participates in some interactions. This is the essence of formal learning, where the curriculum or ‘what exactly is to be learnt’ is pre-decided. Learning typically happens in accordance with timetable or schedule, and there is a stage when learning is considered ‘complete’—when the learner takes a test or an exam, or as in the case of e-learning, a course is marked as ‘viewed’ by the Learning Management System (LMS).
However, in real life, learning happens in many different ways, For example, when we are on the job, we learn by exchanging views with our peers and friends, taking help and advice from our seniors, browsing umpteen sources on the web, and so on. Therefore, knowingly or unknowingly, we are all part of collaborative learning. In fact, research says that only about 20 percent of our learning happens through traditional, formal learning; the remaining 80 percent is informal social or collaborative learning.
This 80 percent learning continues all through our lives (there is no ‘completion’ or certificate attached to it), happens when we feel the need for it (is not pushed to us through an LMS or as per a classroom training schedule), and most importantly, is not limited to a pre-defined plan or outline (the learner is the one who decides what to learn and when). These are the main differences between traditional and collaborative learning.
In corporates, while collaborative learning has been happening informally for years, it is only recently that this form of learning is being recognised as important and critical to organisational development. In fact, most organisations with a learning-oriented culture understand that collaborative learning needs to be encouraged and supported by providing employees a platform to share knowledge and real-life experiences in a somewhat structured manner and create value for themselves as well as the organisation.
Q: Conceptually, collaborative learning sounds great. But, how does it translate into core business benefits? Can collaborative learning replace formal learning in organisations?
A lot has been said about the Return on Investment of training per se and the same is now bound to happen to collaborative learning as well. My personal belief is that organisations that actively propagate employee-driven collaboration and provide platforms for the same, achieve the highest level of employee engagement. Studies have also shown that employee engagement is indeed an important indicator of business performance. The other day, I was reading an article that said that studies by Gallup (a human nature and behavior research organisation—www.gallup.com) have proved that ‘engaged organisations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organisations with lower engagement in their same industry’.
As far as replacement of formal learning by collaborative learning is concerned, I think that it is neither possible nor practical. Formal learning will continue to play a key role in people development but the time has come for formal learning to be suitably complemented by collaborative learning. When I say ‘collaborative learning’, I mean collaboration that is not left to fend for itself; rather, collaboration that is made part of an organisation’s learning strategy. It is learning that is actively supported by the leadership and management, both in principle and by providing tools and platforms to engage in a manner that not only creates value for the individual but also builds organisational knowledge assets for long-term use and reference.
Q: Low level of employee engagement is a critical problem that most companies are facing today. Do you think collaborative learning can help in such a situation?
I can’t say enough about how critical employee engagement is and the kind of business benefits an engaged workforce can provide. Companies are constantly on the lookout for ways and means to boost and maintain high levels of engagement among their staff; and learning and development ranks pretty high as a measure for enhancing employee engagement and commitment. When a major chunk of this training and development becomes collaborative in nature, the engagement level can soar even higher as employees find a platform to learn from people they look up to (supervisors, mentors, thought leaders), people at their own knowledge level (team mates and other colleagues), and most importantly, they also get an avenue where they can share their wisdom and genius. Imagine the engagement level of a team that is aligned to dynamically share and seek knowledge!
Q: Apart from a corporate environment, where else do you see the value of collaborative learning?
I see immense value for collaborative learning in education—whether it is K-12 or beyond that. This was a personal realisation for me as I found myself struggling to answer questions or resolving doubts that my high school going daughter had, when preparing for tests and completing assignments. I would be exasperated and often tell her that I was not her ‘Google’ and that she should not expect instantaneous answers from me on random questions on all subjects. However, slowly I started noticing that she was neither asking me nor simply Googling.
She was suddenly part of multiple online communities (created mostly on Facebook, of course!) where students in her school were freely exchanging useful information and tackling their lengthy and super-difficult assignments with ease. Suspicious about how Facebook was helping in making schoolwork easier, I probed further and realised that the communities were very focused on specific courses and subjects, membership was contained to only students who were taking those courses, and some communities even had teachers as members and mentors. I was also amazed at the quality of the content that everyone was posting—it was all relevant to the topic of study, students had their unique insights, and it seemed so self-moderated. There was no usual teenage chatter or out-of-context information.
To me, this experience was an eye-opener in understanding the value of collaborative learning for the student community.
Q: As a pioneer in the learning solutions industry, is InfoPro innovating in the domain of collaborative learning?
Yes, of course. At InfoPro, we’ve always been looking for ways in which we can leverage our 20 years of experience in the learning industry to go beyond traditional e-learning. It was about 18 months back that we started brainstorming on the idea of how social learning could be facilitated in an organisation. That is how we conceived the idea of Gnosis (pronounced as ‘know-sys’). ‘Gnosis’ is a Greek noun for ‘knowledge’. Today, this platform has taken shape as a holistic, collaborative learning platform that bridges the gap and provides continuity between formal and informal learning. The all-encompassing thought behind Gnosis has been to provide a structured approach to informal learning, while also making it measurable and creating a searchable knowledge repository as an organisational asset.
Q: What are some of the key features and USPs of InfoPro'scollaborative learning platform?
The ability to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning and provide a structure to informal collaborative learning is the key differentiator of Gnosis. Let me explain how this happens in Gnosis. Learners are provided the ability to dive into the Gnosis knowledge pool from any point when taking a formal course through an LMS. This link between the course and Gnosis carries with it contextual information that lands the learner exactly where he or she has absolutely relevant nuggets of knowledge about the topic being studied in the course. In other words, instead of ending up with a deluge of information which the learner needs to sift through to find relevant content, Gnosis provides just the right information from in-house experts, thought leaders, and peers.
Apart from this, some of the other key features of Gnosis include:
- Communities of practice that allow users to create and join user groups based on topics relevant to their jobs.
- Dynamic search mechanisms that help users discover and retain meaningful information.
- Measurement tools that allow organisations to measure learning collaboration by assessing each contribution.
- Mechanisms to incentivise and motivate contributors by using an in-built scoring mechanism for each action performed in Gnosis ranging from asking a question to rating someone’s contribution to creating a community centered around a common area of interest. The higher an individual’s ratings, the higher is their ‘Thought Leadership Index’. Imagine what this can do to employee engagement.
- Ability to categorise and present information in different ways—by authors, by popularity of contributions, by the type of media (audio, video, images).
- Collaboration in real-time using the QuickLearn feature that allows instant screen sharing and recording of sessions for future use.
Our team has also been working hard to provide an intuitive, contemporary interface that today’s information and technology savvy generation can relate to and adapt quickly.
Q: What about the marriage of collaborative learning and the other buzzword–mobile learning?
By their very nature, mobile devices are amenable to instant access, real-time search, as well as storage of information on a ‘need-to’ basis. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for any collaborative learning platform to use mobile devices as the media for interaction among learners and experts. Collaborative learning supported on mobile devices certainly seems to have potential in terms of achieving higher levels of learner satisfaction as their on-the-job needs can be fulfilled just-in-time, making the overall learning experience more effective.
InfoPro’s mobile and learning teams are working on the mobile version of Gnosis with this very objective in mind.