Keeping up with the changing world of work is a challenge that companies around the globe face. For people to succeed in their jobs, they need to access and own skills for future needs. Over 130 billion dollars are spent on corporate training in America each year. For all that’s spent, little comes from it as only 12% of employees apply what is taught through traditional corporate training in their day-to-day work.
Learning is a lifelong process–not a one-off event. Despite this, it’s common for organizations to pull teams away from their work to attend full-day events run by outside experts. After 8-10 hours of lectures and activities, employees are successfully upskilled and ready for the future of work.
There’s a better way.
Instead of outside experts, consider the knowledge already present within their teams. Rather than coursework and quizzes, bring employees together to engage in Social Learning. What is Social Learning?
Psychologist Albert Bandura coined the term when explaining through his research that we learn behaviour by observing others. Therefore, the way organizations help their employees learn new skills and grow needs to include Social Learning practices like Group Learning.
What Is Group Learning In The Workplace?
In the classroom, students that learn together, learn better. There are many ways to do this. Some people call it "collaborative learning," "cooperative learning," or "peer learning." All of them are similar and can be grouped under what we, at Together, refer to as "Group Learning."
Group Learning is rooted in Lev Vygotsky's idea of the Zone Of Proximal Development. It suggests that learners rely on one another when tackling tasks they can't complete alone. Essentially, with others, things get better and easier.
Therefore, Group Learning in the workplace is employee training that accelerates career development by providing an opportunity for collaboration, discussion, and problem-solving. Instead of individual study, employees are learning from each other. Group learning is more engaging for employees and increases retention of what’s learned. Some studies show that Group Learning directly improves employee performance and ability to learn.
Examples and Types of Employees Learning Together
According to PWC’s 22nd annual survey, 80% of CEOs say skill shortages are the number one threat to their company’s growth. This indicates that organizations need to prioritize skill-building for their employees' development. We know that Group Learning is more effective than individual employee learning so let’s look at practical examples of Group Learning:
Think-Pair-Share (TPS) borrows from the classroom. In this activity, students or employees are instructed to reflect on a facilitator’s question. Questions may be function-specific, or more general career-related questions. Examples include:
- What’s the most engaging part of your role in this company?
- What’s the most challenging part of your role?
- How do you practically establish work/life balance on a weekly basis?
These questions stir individual reflection. After reflection, individuals are paired with peers to discuss their ideas. Employees can be paired 1-on-1 to share or can in small groups. Ideally, after sharing ideas, each pair or small group presents to the rest of the team what they learned from their collaboration. In the workplace, this is a great way to encourage knowledge sharing.
This model is synonymous with the one used at altMBA, an online workshop by Seth Godin, a best-selling author and marketing expert. In his sessions, participants are given a puzzling question, asked to reflect, and then share with their colleagues.
Do you have a colleague you know you can rely on no matter what problems arise? Someone you go to for advice, reassurance, encouragement, and straight talk? You’re on similar levels in your organization, but you regularly go to them when you’re in a tight spot–you consider them a mentor of sorts. If you have someone in mind then they may be a Peer Mentor to you.
When we think of a mentor we usually envision a senior leader helping a junior employee grow their career. That’s just one part of mentorship. In the workplace, your peers can also be your mentor. When people with similar experiences and skillsets seek to help each other grow, they practice Peer Mentorship.
Peer Mentoring has two objectives:
- Sharing job-related knowledge
- Providing psychosocial help when needed.
Peer Mentorship is the most common form of informal mentoring in the workplace.
We mentioned above that mentoring is often viewed as a relationship between a young or less experienced individual and an older or more experienced person. Instead, there are many types of mentoring that can happen in the workplace–Group Mentoring being another one in addition to Peer Mentoring.
In a study by Olivet Nazarene University, 44% of the 3000 people surveyed claimed they do not have mentors, while 15% claimed it is tough to get one. The reason is simple. It is practically impossible for everyone to have one-to-one mentorship with a senior leader or executive. This is where group mentorship comes in handy for organizations trying to make mentorship available to everyone.
Group Mentoring can take two different forms:
- One mentor with multiple mentees. Having one mentor with multiple mentees works well for role-specific mentoring programs like preparing new managers. A senior manager can bring all new managers together to discuss the nuances of their role and provide them support and guidance.
- Multiple mentors and mentees. Having multiple mentees and mentors works well for collaborative groups where networking is important. Examples include diversity or ERGs programs where employees from diverse backgrounds or experiences can meet together to gain access to beneficial connections and resources that offer them support.
Every organization ought to give their employees’ career development opportunities and that is best done through mentorship–whether group, peer, or senior-junior programs.
Drawing inspiration again from effective classroom learning, the Jigsaw activity organizes students or employees into groups to learn and master a specific task. They’re usually in a team of four. After gaining an understanding of a concept or task each member splits off to form a new group with others who learned something else. Once in the new group, each ‘expert’ shares what they learned with others.
Jigsaw has proven to be an effective strategy to break down social boundaries. This is because it was developed by social psychologist Prof Elliot Aronson and his graduate school students in 1971 in Austin, Texas. Things were getting tense in Austin, Texas. There had been a recent string of integration events. White kids from all backgrounds shared classrooms with black and Hispanic students for the first time–an experience many couldn't handle very well. So, Prof Elliot, with his students, developed this technique to help diffuse the racial tension after segregation was lifted.
This group dynamic gives each participant increased understanding and exposure to new ideas or topics. Additionally, Jigsaw helps build trust and openness among employees and increases their respect for one another's decisions. It will also make them feel safe to take emotional risks, enhancing workplace interactions between colleagues from different sections.
14 Ways Group Learning Promotes Employee Development
Now that you know what Group Learning is and the examples of how it works well, here are the 14 ways Group Learning promotes employee development.
- Refine understanding through discussion and explanation: Group learning helps employees better understand conceptual problems, especially when using the think-pair-share example. It promotes cooperation and productivity. Open-mindedness and knowledge sharing will rapidly improve their understanding of one another and what’s being learned.
- Give and receive feedback on performance: Employees get to give and receive feedback and constructive criticism on one another's performance. They also get to belong to a unified community where they have support. Sharing information also becomes less stressful since it's no longer a one-person job.
- Challenging assumptions: Group Learning ensures each employee's freedom to challenge the status quo positively and constructively, as well as mutual drilling–employees ask each other questions and test the depth of one another's understanding.
- Develop stronger communication skills: Studies have shown that participants have enhanced communication skills after any Group Learning exercise.
- Tackle more complex problems than they could on their own: The TPS technique enhances problem-solving skills. It also enhances understanding even when the students in a discussion group get answers wrong. Learning with peers is the most effective way to understand complex concepts and help employees feel more motivated to solve problems.
- Delegate roles and responsibilities: Employees often get overwhelmed at work with assignments and projects, but one way to get the job done quicker is to break down tasks into bits and steps and then share with colleagues who can help.
- Share diverse perspectives: Group learning is an excellent way to spur employees to learn and grow in their careers. It helps employees share diverse perspectives and gain new knowledge. More so, they become more aware of their own biases and their colleagues'. As they get to work together, their interactions will open them up to diverse initiatives beneficial to your organization.
- Pool knowledge and skills: World Economic Forum reported that 50% of current employees will need to be reskilled by 2025. This means that if employees aren't properly trained, their skills will soon become obsolete. Group Learning in the workplace creates a pool of knowledge and skills to keep your employees on top of their game.
- Hold one another (and be held) accountable: Accountability improves performance at work. All employees learn the importance of working together to achieve a common goal. Together, they also overcome their limitations so that they don't hinder productivity by setting expectations too high.
- Receive social support and encouragement to take risks: To some, being different is a big risk. Group Learning boosts employees' self-confidence and helps them see possibilities, and as a result, they become more confident in taking risks that lead to growth.
- Develop new approaches to resolving differences: Today's workplace has people from different generations. Some are Millennials, while others are Gen-Zers or baby boomers. This diversity of generations might cause disagreements. Group Learning bridges the gap between them and gives them the opportunity to learn together and understand one another more.
- Establish a shared identity with other group members: Group Learning helps employees establish a shared identity with other group members. Employees with shared identities work together towards common goals, which positively impacts the company's culture.
- Find effective peers to emulate: Your employees need to see that you care about them. You should motivate them to hone their skills so they can learn new things. Many companies have lost touch with developing talents and abilities for future challenges (only 40% do). However, 53% of employees believe that their manager supports their career. Managers cannot do it alone; employees need mentors and colleagues who can help them.
- Develop their voice and perspectives in relation to peers: Different people have different perspectives. In Group Learning, you listen to other people, compare their ideas with yours, add new information to what you already know about a subject, and form your own opinion about your peers and others. The goal here isn't just changing your point of view in relation to that of your peers; it's also about sharpening your voice and understanding of the subject.
How to Introduce Group Learning in your Workplace
Having a group of people in the same place, learning together is an excellent way to build camaraderie and teamwork. Here is how to start a Group Learning program:
Start with a Plan
The main goal of a Group Learning program is to help employees grow. But that can be a vague goal. What are your employees trying to achieve? How would they accomplish it? How does it affect the company's present and future growth? Set goals that align with your company's vision. Instead, it’s helpful for organizations to decide on specific objectives and key results for the program.
- One program may be designed to make onboarding more efficient by pairing up new hires with a buddy.
- Another program may seek to build a more connected culture while the workplace shifts to remote or hybrid models.
Whatever your goal you need to be able to measure the effectiveness of your Group Learning program. This way, you can adjust and customize it to best achieve your goals. For specific guidance on how to measure your program check out our guide on measuring your workplace mentoring program.
Create a Safe Environment
If you want people to learn more at work, create a safe environment. Make sure they can share their thoughts and give them valuable feedback. This isn't just for good management, but also your company's future.
Have a Facilitator
A great facilitator can make or break the Group Learning experience.
There are three key components:
- Time allocation, and
Employees need to engage, tolerate and enjoy one another's company. Your facilitator should know how to carry everyone along to ensure no one feels left out or ignored.
Build a Learning Culture that Transforms
It is not just about building employees' skills for tomorrow's job demands; it is also about transforming them.
Encourage your employees to learn what aligns with their skill gap. Applaud them when they make an effort. 40% of American workers say they will work harder if they receive some professional credit. Organizations can leverage Group Learning programs to show employees that they don’t have to only learn on their own. It can be collaborative.
Get Started Building Your Program With Together
Social learning is how employees learn most effectively. It combines formal and informal training; learning involves senior leaders and colleagues on the same level; it’s engaging, memorable and leads to better outcomes than traditional corporate training.
It’s time to move beyond coursework and quizzes, which are proven to be ineffective.
Starting a Group Learning program is easy with Together’s mentoring software. Using our software you can easily pair hundreds of participants without the hassle or manually connecting employees using spreadsheets. You can measure the effectiveness of your program with our comprehensive reporting features that provide insight into who’s meeting, when, and the feedback that they leave after each session.
Additionally, our team of mentoring experts have content like mentoring handbooks for mentors and mentees, customizable agendas for sessions, and links to curated resources. We make it easy to run a world-class employee learning program.