Best practices

Train your team online: Boost workplace productivity with group learning strategies

No matter what kind of business you run, one thing is certain (well, two if you also count taxes, but that’s a different story): your employees do not work in isolation.

It’s even evident in how we name our businesses: a company is, among other things, a company of people working together. Enterprise employees work in small teams, that form larger departments, that are comprised of one or more branches, and so on. And all of those different parts of your company, on the micro- and the macro- scale, collaborate towards your end goals.

That, apparently, is how people best learn things too. The same goes in school, where teamwork and collaboration have long been encouraged, or in a corporate training setting, which increasingly sees “collaborative learning” approaches becoming more popular.

In this post we’ll examine what collaborative learning is, and how you can best approach and implement it for improving workplace productivity.

Effective Team Learning

Group learning, also going by the name “collaborative learning” among several others, refers to the instructional strategy of having learners work together in groups in order to tackle some common task (project, exercise, etc.).

Both the size of the group and the complexity of the assigned task can vary widely (from collaborating on a presentation to working together on a prototype product), but simpler tasks and smaller groups of 3-8 people can be a good starting point.

For your group learning strategies to be effective, the group should work as a cohesive unit, with learners feeling responsible for the shared progress of the group, but also be personally motivated at the same time. In other words, learners must be made to feel that both their personal contribution and the overall success of the group is important. This, of course, is desired in all types of team work, like it is in sports.

Evaluation and grading at both the individual and the group level can be used to promote this kind of dual accountability, but care should be taken so that personal progress is not just a matter of independent work, but is also tied with the group’s progress as a whole.

Group learning is also all about person-to-person communication, and should be set up as to encourage members of the group to discuss with and support one another, and play their individual strengths and contributions to the group’s advantage. This is a great way to improve your employees’ social and collaborative skills, as well as their division of labor and problem solving approaches, among other things.

It’s this interplay between social interaction, teamwork and individual contribution that make group learning such a relevant model for increased workplace productivity and collaboration. It’s also something that schools and universities, mostly focused on individual progress, fail to properly prepare their students for, which is a common complaint among enterprise employers.

Benefits Of Implementing Group Learning Strategies

While group learning is an excellent way to increase employee collaboration skills, it’s also rather difficult and costly to arrange in a traditional classroom-based training setting.

It not only requires learners to adhere to strict training schedules (based on classroom availability, lesson timetables, etc.), but also piles additional scheduling demands (e.g. for the group to discuss their shared tasks, work together, etc.). When your training groups consist of employees from different departments, with different work schedules and deadlines to meet, shared time gets complicated quickly, and training demands often begin to eat into your business workflows.

Add the cost of instructors needing to meet with and supervise each group, or perhaps travel expenses, in case your training takes places in a facility outside your company’s premises, and the whole thing can be a logistical nightmare.

Online-based collaborative learning and talent development, with a tool like eFront, helps solve all these problems and allows businesses to effectively implement group learning programs, or any other of training program for that matter.

Due to the on-demand, asynchronous nature of online training, learners can study at their own pace without taking time off work or having to follow the rigid schedules required for classroom-based sessions.

And as communication with their group and coordination is also done online through messaging, forums, file sharing, emails, IM, etc., and asynchronously, members of a group don’t have to all be available at the same time to collaborate, which minimizes work disruptions.

Even better, eFront also allows learners to study and collaborate from their mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.), enabling them to participate in their group learning even when they are on the go (on their commute, on a flight to some meeting, etc.). It even includes support for offline learning, which makes it perfect for areas with spotty coverage or expensive data plans.

Implement Group Learning Strategies With eFront

eFront, as a leading Talent Development platform, has numerous tools to help you implement your team learning strategies by creating a succesful group learning training program.

Groups, as the name suggests, is perhaps the most important and basic of these tools, as it allows you to create groups of learners of any size, which you can then treat as a collective whole, follow their progress as a unit and individually, and even perform mass actions on them, like enroll them all to the same class, send them a message, etc.

The Groups feature is not required for doing collaborative learning in eFront — you can always opt to create ad-hoc groups of learners, without using it. It is, however, a handy way to keep track of your training groups and we suggest that you leverage it.

Messages and internal notifications are another handy feature for group learning in eFront. You can send messages to any particular group (or all of them), and also have group members message each other. You could, of course, use a dedicated Instant Messaging solution too for the same purpose. In fact, eFront can be easily integrated to Slack, the most popular business chat app, that your company may, or may not, be already using.

eFront’s Discussion Forums functionality can be a great way for groups to discuss and organize their work, with a permanent written record to help them refer to earlier discussions and decisions. They are also extremely easy to create and administer, and simple for your learners to get used to using.

When things need to get real (real-time, that is) eFront also has you covered. With its native support for the BigBlueButton and WebEX videoconference options, learners belonging to one or more groups can meet online, discuss their common tasks, and coordinate their future actions.

The need to share various types of files (Word documents, presentations, etc.) is another common requirement in group work, and eFront has built-in file-sharing support to help facilitate this. Instructors can share files to the whole class (e.g. to assign a project or exercise all groups should have a go at) or just to learners belonging to specific groups.

Not strictly related to group learning, but potentially very useful in such a context, are eFront’s integration capabilities. Through its native integration options, but even more so, through the Zapier integration broker, eFront can be connected to all kinds of third party services (literally thousands of them), including popular social media and collaboration platforms, from Slack to Facebook, and beyond.

For boosting engagement and competition between your individual learners and groups, eFront’s Gamification features can also come in handy, as the platform offers a very flexible and customizable engine that includes all the major gamification tools (points, badges, levels, leaderboards, etc.).

Finally, for knowing how your groups and group members are doing, eFront has a fully-featured Reporting engine, where you can see the activities and progress at the individual learner, group and course levels (all the way up to a high level overview of your overall company training program).

eFront for IBM Connections

Related with, but one step above group learning, is social learning, which takes the group learning approach and generalizes it to your whole employee training and development program.

eFront is not a Social Learning platform by itself, but it has native support for the leading corporate social networking solution out there, IBM’s own IBM Connections. In fact, eFront is an officially recognized IBM partner for the Connections platform, and verified as part of IBM’s “Ready for IBM Social Business” program.

eFront’s optional eFront for IBM Connections addon offers businesses complete integration between IBM’s social business platform and Epignosis leading Talent Development and eLearning solution, and gives learners access to all their eFront hosted learning material (from lessons to tests, assessments, and surveys) right from within IBM Connection’s interface, next to where their email, calendar and social connections live.

What’s more, eFront for IBM Connections gives enterprise managers the ability to form ad-hoc or target-specific groups around areas of interest, and to assign training content to specific teams.

Increasing Workplace Productivity With Collaborative Learning

Group learning is an effective strategy to increase your employees’ team spirit, collaboration skills, and workplace productivity. With a long history in education, it is now increasingly adopted by modern businesses.

Online-based group learning with tools like eFront is the most flexible and cost-effective group learning solution, allowing businesses to implement an on-demand collaborative learning program that allows employees to study and work together asynchronously without taking time from their everyday responsibilities.

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