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The Importance of Real Interaction in Digital Learning

  • 6 Min Read

Collaboration is proven to boost learning outcomes


Collaboration is key to developing complex skills. But when you think of collaborative learning, what do you imagine? Busy training rooms of times gone by? Full to the brim of enthusiastic learners ready to work together on the next team building exercise? These training experiences feel like a distant memory now, thanks to the pandemic and the remote lifestyle it’s brought with it. So, how can we recreate that collaborative environment in a virtual setting and enable our people to learn the crucial complex skills our businesses need? The answer lies in programmatic learning. 

Programmatic learning (also known as programme-based learning) in the modern day is used to develop new knowledge and expertise over time using technology. By exposing the learner to a depth and breadth of information – in tandem with real-life application – learners are able to tackle more complex organisational challenges. In this second part of our programmatic learning blog series, we are going to explore the benefits of collaborative learning and how it will help your people develop the complex skills they need to overcome the looming skills gap crisis. 

The future of the workplace 

The impact of Covid-19 on businesses and employees is well reported. The pandemic hit and many people packed up their desks and went to work from home (WFH). But nobody could anticipate that a year later, we’d still be here. And accepting our fate of a new WFH life, our people have traded in makeshift desks and dining room chairs for something a bit more stable and comfortable. But has L&D and HR made this same transition? 

The pandemic put many learning initiatives “on hold”, assuming that just a few months later we’d be back to our old ways of working. And when we realised the recovery from the crisis would take a little longer than expected, many took their existing training programmes and delivered them via online video conferencing platforms. These types of learning interventions are unlikely to be effective. By doing this we’re allowing our people to passively listen to the content – and not ensuring any long-term knowledge retention in the process. 

Although the pandemic accelerated this shift in working styles, the evolution of the workplace has been creeping up on us for many years – and it isn’t going anywhere once we say goodbye to Covid-19. In fact, 57% of the workforce want to maintain some level of ‘working from home’ after the pandemic is over. And dispersed teams aren’t a new phenomenon. Organisations have been operating with offices across the globe for many years – and due to readily available technology, this is likely to continue to rise too.  

These new ways of working fuel the need to transition from face-to-face training interventions, to online learning. But this brings with it a new set of challenges. How do we create cohesion in remote teams? How can we create a supportive learning culture that encourages development of complex skills? How can we ensure our people embrace continuous learning, despite working from home? The key to this is virtual collaboration.  

Why is virtual collaboration so important? 

The world is facing a global skills crisis. According to a report by the Learning & Work Institute, the UK skills deficit will cost the country a whopping £120 billion by 2030. So business leaders are starting to sit up and realise that reskilling the workforce is a top priority. Alongside upskilling for our digital future, we need to teach our people deeply human skills to ensure we’re future-proofed against the looming skills gap crisis. And collaboration in learning is proven to be an effective way to train these complex skills our people need.  

Whilst reskilling and upskilling your workforce will go some way to build your business resilience against the skills gap crisis, it’s unlikely that the people who have the skills you need right now are all based in the exact town your business operates from. In fact, they may not even be in the same country. In 2021 and beyond, this should no longer be a blocker to getting the right skills into your company. Instead, you need to empower your people to collaborate across borders and work effectively regardless of their location.  

The best part is, by encouraging your employees to collaborate with their colleagues and peers across the globe, you’re not only improving business efficiency through collaboration. You’re also teaching your people the skill of collaboration, and in turn teamwork, which is listed as the 2nd most important skill needed to overcome the upcoming skills gap crisis.  

Encouraging collaboration in dispersed teams 

No matter the reason your team is dispersed, whether your business operates across countries, or your office workers are all WFH for the foreseeable, you must work to increase collaboration amongst your dispersed team members.  

Real interaction with people is critical to successful, programmatic learning. Programmatic learning is a detailed, blended learning intervention which spans months, not minutes. Although not a new concept, the popularity of programmatic learning has excelled in recent years as complex challenges, such as digital transformation, cannot be tackled with a single, independent learning intervention.  

It’s proven that people learn better when they learn together. We are innate social beings, and learners thrive when with their peers. Despite the pandemic and globalisation, we should not let the importance of people interaction fall by the wayside. 

However many online learning solutions fall short in integrating collaborative learning. Most eLearning courses, for example, are taken in complete isolation. An experience shared between one learner and their chosen device. With learning interventions like these, there is no room for collaboration or communication with peers. This needs to change. So how can we use learning technologies to fuel collaborative learning – no matter where our learners are? 

Social learning 

Psychologist Albert Bandura developed the ‘Social Learning Theory’ back in 1977, years before the creation of social media, which is often synonymous with social learning. In this theory, Bandura states that people learn from observation, imitation and modelling. And although the theory was developed before our modern forms of social interaction, implementing social learning through digital mediums is hugely successful. In fact, a recent report from McKinsey says social tech can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25%. 

There are a number of ways in which you can integrate the power of social learning into your digital learning programme, such as discussion boards, competitions and leaderboards. This not only facilitates social interaction, it also increases learner accountability to one another – boosting learning impact.  

Virtual classrooms  

Another great way to facilitate people interaction in your programmatic learning is through virtual classrooms. Virtual classrooms are online spaces that share some features of brick-and-mortar classrooms. They allow learners to interact with one another and the instructor, using video conferencing, virtual white boards and slide sharing, to boost engagement with learners. This level of people interaction enhances the learning experience, switching it from an instructor, or business-focused approach to a learner-centred approach. Allowing your learners to ask questions and receive instant feedback when needed, no matter their physical location.  

Digital, dispersed workforces should not mean a lack of people interaction  

Embracing the digital tools available to us means that regardless of location, we can ensure people interaction is integrated in all our learning programmes. And this is paramount to learning success. In fact, here at D2L we believe it’s so important that real interaction with people is a key element of our Programmatic Learning Framework. To learn more about programmatic learning, and how people interaction complements the other areas of the framework, download our Programmatic Learning ebook now.  

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Table of Contents

  1. The future of the workplace 
  2. Why is virtual collaboration so important? 
  3. Encouraging collaboration in dispersed teams 
  4. Digital, dispersed workforces should not mean a lack of people interaction