The organization is a social place. You seldom function in isolation. Workplaces in particular require you to perform tasks in conjunction with your peers, advices and suggestions from your seniors and inputs from those subordinate to you. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative to work collaboratively. Collaborative working may be thought of as a collective effort to solve a problem at hand. Different people work on different aspects of the problem which are then consolidated into one solution. Applied to the context of learning, collaborative learning is an approach which enhances people’s social skills by making them more receptive to others’ ideas, while promoting healthy competition. The benefits are many- increased positive interdependence, better interaction, development of critical thinking and comprehensive understanding of concepts. It has been found that small and mid-sized groups that work together to achieve defined learning outcomes/goals build trust and open the gates for better communication.
The jigsaw classroom is an interesting technique that can be applied to organizational learning as well. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit in complementary fashion to complete the big picture, this technique breaks down the entire learning into small chunks which are assigned as goals to the participating learners. Here is an example:
Suppose Retailex is a multi-brand retail organization planning to venture to global markets. It needs to align its employees’ learning to this goal so that they have a thorough understanding of the situation. For the sake of explanation, let us say the senior learning manager creates 3 groups of 5 managers each. The groups are I (India), J (Japan) and A (Australia). Within each group, the 5 roles are marketing, finance, operations, human resources and industry awareness.
Now this is how the 5 managers work: The manager handling industry awareness is responsible for finding out about government policies, history of retail ventures, the current demand and supply status and the leading multi-brand retailers in the country. He shares this information with the other four members of the group, based on which the marketing manager analyses and develops the marketing strategy that would be successful in that country. The finance manager looks into the financial aspects that will be shaped by the country-and-business venture and the operations manager works on how inventory and logistics would be managed. The human resources manager plans the tradeoff between outsourcing and in-house personnel. The entire group works in interdependence. For example, the operations manager works according to the commitments made by the marketing function, and vice versa. In the end, all the information is combined for each of the three countries and shared with all the 15 managers in the form of presentations.
The result: All the managers have to work on small aspects of the learning problem, yet they have the complete picture of the business plan for India, Japan and Australia. This enables them to compare and contrast what they learnt about their function/ country with the others.
As is evident from this basic example, the jigsaw technique helps learners to capitalize on each others’ learning outcomes, while reducing individual anxiety and spurring greater engagement and motivation to find out, discuss and reach conclusions.
Needless to say, technology is a boon to collaborative learning. Google groups, Stixy (an online shared whiteboard space), Mind42 (a browser-based online mind mapping application to organise all your ideas), Mikogo (a tool for meetings in the virtual space)…the list is endless when it comes to online tools for collaborative learning.
After all, as Hellen Keller rightly said- Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.