Collaborative online learning breaks down silos – Chief Learning Officer

“Learning on your own is, frankly, dull,” notes a senior learning leader at a global payments technology company. “Every learning experience, when you go do things in-person in a conference room, and now virtually, you really want to walk away with a roster of people you can ask questions of; people who expand your own diversity of thought and experience, people you can think through business problems with. You always go to the learning event for the knowledge and the capability building, but so much of that can be 10x’d because you had a conversation with a person who challenged your assumptions. That kind of learning allows people to grow much faster.”

This is the heart of the power of collaborative online learning, and those networking connections can happen across organizational silos like departments, title levels or geographically — basically, any way in which an organization, purposefully or by happenstance, has silos of people who work with only each other in limited groupings.

“Breaking down silos across geographies and divisions, getting people connected across a company was very much a goal of our programs in 2021 and today,” the senior learning leader adds. “The collaborative learning experience gives people designed opportunities to network and get together online in simple but effective ways of connecting, for example with discussions boards, and team-based competitions based on simulations.”

Collaborative online learning offers learners experiences that utilize the best of social and team-based learning technologies in one place. Without a collaborative digital approach, companies can miss taking advantage of the different skill sets of associates around the globe.

By using online tools that foster working together while learning together, learners can view each other differently across demographics and break down any cross-global preconceptions. In addition, the training team gets to hear directly from all the learners they’re solving for and hear what they truly need in training, so it’s easier to make it more inclusive. 

Time-based events that use an ecosystem of virtual technologies that support collaborative learning can break down silos as well. For instance, Grant Thornton hosted a conference on diversity, equity and inclusion in October 2020 successfully on a collaborative platform, using Webex and Teams as supporting technologies.

As Rashada Whitehead, Grant Thornton’s head of colleague experience, people and community, explains: “The platform was open for people to do pre-reading before live webinars, get to know the speakers and each other through social profiles and discussion forums, and submit questions. It also served as an ongoing post-event hub for additional resources. In fact, we monitored the discussion boards and if topics were trending, folded those into the live events and had the subject matter experts comment directly. It really expanded the power of an hour-long live panel, having the collaborative wrap-around. And since people were able to choose their topics of interest, which ranged from allyship to bias, recruiting, fostering a community of belonging, and more, folks from different geographies, levels, lines of business, and interests came together in ways they normally wouldn’t have — especially during a pandemic and remote working environment.”

And what about the post-pandemic future for digital approaches? The senior learning leader at a global payments company believes that, “digital, collaborative, team-based, applied learning has become de facto standard and in-person one-off events will be much less of the norm than they used to be. I think in-person will be used for some sort of an extra-special event perhaps, but not standard for day-to-day anymore. Birthday parties over Zoom are surely lacking, but online collaborative learning is such a rich experience, it’s worth continuing past the pandemic.”