Online learning was gaining momentum slowly but steadily prior to the pandemic. Then, in 2020, it was fast-tracked and has been on the rise ever since.
But just being on the digital platform is not enough to have an effective learning experience. An important aspect of the learning experience is collaboration.
Learning and development functions built for collaboration achieve greater success. Decades ago, collaboration was restricted to learners physically in the class. Nowadays, technology bridges this geographical distance. However, we also need to use it to provide a social touch and interact within a community at large.
L&D in earlier times was mostly individual. Learners are expected to find, develop and show their knowledge and skills individually. However, it is not possible for a person to master everything independently. Also, in modern times, knowledge must be absorbed faster, and skills must be developed quicker. Therefore, there is benefit to collaborate and learn from each other.
Collaborative learning had its breakout year in 2021. In 2022, it was established as an essential for effective learning, and in 2023, we will see technological advancements for enabling easy collaboration. One of these advancements is the metaverse.
Collaborative learning is built on the premise that pooling of knowledge accentuates learning and increases it by a huge delta as compared to individual study. The SPA benefits (social-psychological-academic) lead to a multi-dimensional impact. Leader boards, jigsaw puzzles, discussion forums and group projects all encourage learner access to peer knowledge. Sharing, brainstorming and reviewing all lead to high order thinking that adds new knowledge and builds upon existing knowledge. Working in a group enhances problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Global in-person participation is restricted by geographical barriers. In the online modality, it might be cut and dry, but the benefits of a real-time environment are missing.
The metaverse can bridge not only the geographical gap but can also bring in the best points of face-to-face interactions. True to its definition, it can provide a classroom experience in an immersive three-dimensional virtual space, where learners can experience learning in a way that they cannot in the physical world.
Immersive and engaging lessons, interactive discussion forums and more responsive faculty engagement in a virtual environment can add to the learning experience. For example, a faculty interacting in a metaverse where the learners can come and discuss at specified times and leave comments on a whiteboard at other times will be more fun and engaging as compared to a simple textual discussion forum. Below are some key benefits of collaborative learning, and how the metaverse can further enhance it.
Reduced time gap between learning and application
I’ve developed a “Learn-Observe-Practice-Implement” model, which is based on the premise that besides learning by reading through concepts and hearing from the experts, a lot of learning happens from observing experts as they perform a task. Imitation learning contributes a lot toward learning the unsaid aspects.
In the metaverse, learners can observe and practice a real-life scenario within a virtual replica. For example, as part of an effective communication course, the practitioner can showcase effective skills by presenting to a live audience in a metaverse environment, and then the learner can practice with their peer group. This will help reduce the time gap between learning and application.
Improved learner engagement
Collaborative learning leads to open dialogue and expression of ideas and opinion by all in the group. Learning from the perspective of peers not only creates positive inter-group bonds but also makes the members more aware of diversity.
The metaverse can enable creation of a diverse peer-group with participants from across the globe, in which learners can interact real-time and gain a global perspective and experience. Building “virtual interaction sessions” or “metaverse office hours” in the learning design can not only lead to social learning but also foster diversity and inclusion.
Enhanced learning experience
Collaborative learning requires participation from all in the group. However, there may be a few members in the group who are not comfortable expressing their views in face-to-face interactions. We need to have environments where everyone gets the opportunity to communicate.
Group interactions in the metaverse can be more fun and result in active participation by all. You may build in cues for the group to focus on the topics of discussion and learning. Avatars can also be used to bring out your interests and personalities besides adding the fun element.
This, in turn, leads to success as a group-centric variable. Sharing of knowledge and skills leads to new learning, building upon existing learning and clarification of unclear concepts. It also improves communication and articulation skills.
Important aspects of collaboration
There are certain aspects that need to be considered while designing group activities. These become even more critical in the virtual environment so that it is a win-win situation for all learners.
Group size — An appropriately sized group will be able to establish a good bond and act as a cohesive team. Too small a group will not bring out diverse perspectives and too large a group will not be able to consider all perspectives.
Group goals — It is important that all members of the group work toward common goals, so all efforts are structured and in the same direction.
Group roles — With multiple people working toward the same goal, it is a good strategy to divide the tasks and allocate roles. This also enables directing of individual efforts and experience toward achieving bigger results.
Group communication — Open communication through agreed-upon channels of communication lead to effective exchange of thoughts and ideas.
Collaboration leads to synergies, and synergies open doors to creativity, out of box thinking, new ideas and improvements. It is important that individual efforts get the impetus in a group so that combined efforts can achieve greater results.
For an effective learning experience and to make knowledge connections, collaborative learning must become an integral part of curriculum design. Leveraging the technology and design of an environment like the metaverse can ensure global participation and maximum engagement of all learners.
Foto: Leveraging the technology and design of an environment like the metaverse can ensure global participation and maximum engagement of all learners.