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5 Collaborative Learning Techniques to Try in Your Next Virtual Workshop (or With Your Team)

tamanna-rumee-gJ7ADm-2XFE-unsplashDoes Your Virtual Team Feel Connected?

It is estimated that in early 2020 up to 88% of organizations required employees to work from home and cancel up to 97% of work-related travel.1 From trainings and team meetings to high-level strategy sessions, we’ve become adept at virtual communication.

In this constantly changing environment, we know leaders are craving personalization and connection as much as leadership and management skills. Collaborating and connecting with others – especially if they work in a virtual environment or as a remote employee ­– gives employees an opportunity to really work with others, versus just reporting to them or managing them remotely.

Whether counteracting the challenges of remote work, or creating better engagement and retention in your virtual classroom, here are some ideas for increasing collaborative learning:

Create a Jigsaw Exercise

The jigsaw method breaks an assignment into smaller pieces, which a group or team has to assemble to complete. Each group is responsible for one aspect of the whole, which when brought together, shows a bigger picture. Having your team or workshop attendees take the reins on a portion of the training or meeting is a great way to increase engagement and strengthen interdependence. While the jigsaw technique has long been used in classrooms, as a meeting or workshop strategy it can promote quickly getting to know one another and uncover hidden expertise.

Create a group “mind map” or “brain writing” exercise

Mindmapping is often used to generate ideas that multiply and stem from a central node or topic/theme. This method of organizing ideas is highly visual – triggering associations, combinations, differences, and summarizations. Often, you might give individuals the assignment to mindmap a solution to a problem working individually, sort of like a personal brainstorm. To make it a collaborative learning experience, introduce the concept of “brain writing” which requires people to create an initial set of ideas individually, then pass them to others that will build on those ideas, and on, and on. Although typically done in-person by passing pieces of paper to others on the team, an online team could move from breakout room to breakout room, adding their idea to each room’s whiteboard or chat pod then debriefing or sharing as a main group.

If your team is virtual, try virtual co-working

Often making time for collaboration is difficult when a formal meeting is called, with time set aside for an expected agenda or outcome. If your team works remotely, or you have a long-term workshop or classroom experience, introduce the idea of a more informal “co-working” strategy. This simply entails a team working alongside each other, virtually. A small team or group sets aside time to either work on a project, or just work alongside each other on their regular assignments as unstructured work time with their videos and microphones on. This encourages spontaneous collaboration, quick check-ins or chats, or easy resolution to questions that can be asked in the moment. This is especially helpful for easing social isolation and encouraging spontaneity.2

Think, pair, and share

Group consensus and solving complex problems can be difficult among teams, whether remote or not. No group or team is immune to the dynamics of feeling unheard, or that decisions were made in a vacuum. When faced with a challenge as a team, or giving a challenge to workshop cohort, consider using a “think, pair, share” technique to encourage many ideas to be generated and heard.

  • Think – each person is tasked, with ample time, to independently approach the question and form their ideas
  • Pair – duos or small teams discuss and articulate their ideas
  • Share – the pairs then share their ideas or suggestions with the larger group

When in doubt, brush up on the “norms” of collaboration

Another collaborative technique is to make sure you, as a facilitator, are aware of the dynamics of collaboration – especially when a remote scenario could make it easy for cues to be missed. A few simple norms to keep in mind are:

  • Pause – allow time for thinking and discussion
  • Paraphrase – ensure you are not falling back on jargon, or assumptions that might not be known to the whole team
  • Probe – use open-ended questions, not directives
  • Put ideas out there – encourage sharing and meaningful dialogue
  • Pay attention – make sure you and others are aware of what they are saying and how others are responding
  • Assume positivity – give each other the benefit of the doubt
  • Maintain balance – make sure you are checking for your own bias and leaving the door open for learning from the group3

Increasing your attention to the unique needs of remote workers to collaborate (or to interact with those who might be in the office) will have many benefits. While many organizations have addressed the basic needs of remote workers, such as equipment, technology, work expectations, or where to find information, not as many address the ongoing challenges of remote work as related to social isolation, lack of interaction, or the feeling of disconnection from the organization as a whole. These techniques, and others, may help ease anxiety and improve collaboration on your team. Have you applied any collaborative tools that have resonated with your team or workshop cohort?

1. Give Your Remote Team Unstructured Time for Collaboration
2. Gartner HR Survey Reveals 88% of Organizations Have Encouraged or Required Employees to Work From Home Due to Coronavirus
3. The Seven Norms of Collaborative Work

Photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash


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Lauren Parkhill

Lauren Parkhill leads the marketing team in creating creative content that helps organizations develop their leaders and teams.

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