Collaborative Learning: What Is It and How Do We Use It?

We all know about the skills gap and our industry’s concerns for the future of manufacturing. According to research from Deloitte, nearly 3.5 million skilled jobs will need to be filled in the next decade, and the skills gap is predicted to result in over 2 million of those jobs remaining vacant. One of the many proposed adjustments is the integration of collaborative learning.

What is collaborative learning?

Whenever someone is learning a skill, process, or system outside of the typical instructor/trainee scenario, that is collaborative learning in its broadest sense. Hands-on experience, mentorships, online tutorials, message boards, and any other kind of interactive learning outside of a classroom lecture environment is considered collaborative.

Why is this model so important to manufacturing?

There are many reasons why collaborative learning is critical to the future of manufacturing. First, this type of engagement will allow the highly-skilled generation that will soon be retiring to pass on their knowledge long after they have left the shopfloor. Technology and the Internet make it possible for employees with nuggets of wisdom to share to record quick instructional videos, write brief blog posts, or host Q&A forums that can be archived and searched at a later time. Daisy Hernandez wrote this week in MBT Magazine about the importance of offering incentives for this type of knowledge-sharing.

Another reason for collaboration is continuous learning. When message boards, instructional videos, tutorials, etc. are already set up for new hires, the exploration of these platforms by established employees should be encouraged. Real-time collaborative tech like message boards and chats also allow for interaction with peers, instructors, and experts outside of one’s immediate environment on the fly. These practices also streamline critical functions and eliminate inefficiencies, something that a recent IDC survey found could cost companies as much as $30,000 per employee.

How can I use collaborative learning in my workplace?

Many manufacturers already have some of the systems mentioned above in place, so it’s just a matter of encouraging employees to use them for collaborative purposes. A good place to start might be by asking a handful of established employees to dedicate an hour per week to simply be available to answer questions. Another option is to ask those same employees to think of 5 specific things (shortcuts, tools, etc.) they wish they had figured out back when they started their current job, compiling them, and posting it somewhere employees can access and search through  it easily whenever they need.


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