What is Collaborative Learning?

Author: Intrepid by VitalSource
September 27, 2021
what is collaborative learning

Collaborative online learning is many things (and it’s a few not-things, too). If you’re in need of a definition of collaborative learning, or a better understanding of how collaborative online learning can fit into your L&D endeavors, this page is for you…

Collaborative learning is cohort-driven

E-learning is a solo affair, clicking “Next” all by yourself (even if your whole company has to take the same e-learning). Collaborative learning, on the other hand, is cohort-driven. You can go through the learning experience at your own pace (the “semi” in “semi-synchronous”) but keep up with your fellow learners and peers via milestones and deadlines on a weekly or monthly basis (the “synchronous” in “semi-synchronous”).

Collaborative learning leverages the best of the “wisdom of the crowds” by allowing learners to ask questions, get responses from both peers and subject matter experts/facilitators, see what other people have to say, and comment themselves.

It also makes way for great group projects and, well, learning collaboratively. This is learning with and from others, the way it should be. Here’s another way to put it: collaborative learning is NOT learning in a vacuum or subject to your own willpower. No, you share the learning journey with others across your company, on a macro and a micro level, with collaborative learning.

Related resources

Collaborative learning is ready to be put to work

Just as collaborative learning is not solo learning in a vacuum, neither is it generic learning in a vacuum. Collaborative learning is easily designed to be instantly on-the-job applicable, because it is easy to leverage real-job problems in the content, and incorporate company context throughout the learning experience.

This makes it far superior to off-the-shelf content that fails to draw the line between theory/concept and reality/application at your company.

How is this done? By making it super easy to bring in senior members of your organization to the learning experience through short videos or office hours. By making it super easy to add “grouting” between conceptual modules to explain how an idea or skill relates to your specific company’s goals and culture. By making it super easy to create and respond to “bring your own problem”-type work in the flow of learning.

Related resources

Collaborative learning is interactive

Clicking “next” is boring, and does not meet the true definition of interactivity in this day and age. Learners demand more! And collaborative learning gives it to them, with options for everything from reading to discussion boards to missions to watching videos to uploading their own videos, and that’s just for starters.

Groups can also work together within a collaborative learning experience even as they do the learning at their own pace, and at the best time of day/week for them.

In a collaborative learning experience, learners are asked to interact with peers, facilitators, SMEs, and company leaders. This can be through discussion boards, feedback on projects, time-stamped video practice responses, and so much more. It’s true interactivity when you can’t imagine the learning without the learner being present and a part of everything from the start.

Related resources

Collaborative learning is proactive and nimble

A collaborative learning experience can be stood up fast. It’s not uncommon for organizations to launch the first 2 modules of a multi-module course before they’ve finished refining the rest, which means they can learn from rounds 1 and 2 and apply those learnings to the design and execution of 3, 4, and 5, without getting bogged down.

It’s also quite simple for a learning leader, subject matter expert, senior member of the organization, or facilitator to upload a weekly Q&A video, or post summarizing the themes of each week’s learner discussions. Easy-peasy, and so effective.

In addition, previous runs of a program can be copied over and altered easily, making it simple to pilot before full launch, or deliver the same general learning to completely different audiences while still tailoring it for each type of learner set.

Related resources

Collaborative learning is measurable

Learning can mean a lot to the business, but you have to be able to prove it. Collaborative learning is measurable in so many different ways, from tracking engagement within the learning experience to watching a sales team’s social selling indexes improve over the next quarter. Back-end analytics that are easy to understand on their own, and work with your broader business analytics, are crucial to tracking progress of learners back on the job. So is manager involvement, which a collaborative learning platform makes easy.

Measuring starts with the basic stuff like content consumption and interaction points, but can be used to measure so much more with a little planning and a little creativity.

Related resources

Collaborative learning is key to a blended approach

Collaborative learning is huge. But it’s also a great team player and only one part of the ultimate L&D puzzle: how to move the needle for business via individual learner progress.

Blended learning can include self-paced learning, live virtual events, in-person events, webinars, group chats, office hours, on-the-job work, and more — but all of it can be hosted within a single collaborative learning experience. This makes the learning seamless for learners even when it’s made up of lots of disparate components.

Each type of learning approach in a blended experience has its strengths and weaknesses, but without collaborative learning at the heart, they run a real risk of being confusing and “all over the place” for learners. But within a collaborative learning platform, links to other types of learning events, be they self-paced or calendered, feel seamless for the learner and really revs up the learning, as opposed to the “finding the right log in again” pitfall of so many other approaches.

Related resources


See how collaborative learning can amplify organizational performance.

Get White Paper
intrepid by vitalsource
About the Author

Intrepid by VitalSource

Related Content

collaborative learning white paper

Collaborative Learning – The Key to Better Performance

Looking for ways to boost productivity and engagement in hybrid...
Learn More
how to increase engagement in online learning

5 Learner Engagement Strategies to Boost Workplace Success

Looking for ways to boost learner engagement? Explore 5 proven...
Learn More
leadership training for new managers

Collaborative Leadership Training for New Managers: 5 Key Components

Discover 5 keys to effective leadership training for new managers,...
Learn More

View the Webinar

Download the Ebook