Sometimes, all you want to do is tuck yourself away with your learning resources and get it over and done with. However – even with the best intentions – studying alone may not always be the most effective way to learn.
Collaborative learning refers to the act of engaging with education in a pair or group setting. That being said, if there are fourteen students in a room all studying the same thing individually, that’s not collaborative learning. It would only be collaborative learning if those fourteen students were sitting in groups of more than one, discussing the topic at hand.
What are the benefits of collaborative learning?
Though there are a few obvious benefits from working through educational activities with others – ie. finding it easier to focus, having a more enjoyable learning experience, and engaging with varying ideas and perspectives – there are a few more that may not immediately come to mind:
Enhances work-based problem-solving skills
When you work with other healthcare professionals to complete CPD, you’ll hear about their experiences and opinions relating to specific topics. For example, if you’re learning something new about providing care for people with dementia, your study partner who used to be an aged care nurse may have some interesting insights. Whatsmore, she may even have some tips and tricks for remembering certain processes, or might have some tried-and-tested management strategies she could show you.
Improves cultural awareness
Once again, you can gain a lot from your study partner or study group by just listening to their experiences relating to the topic, and vice versa. For example, if you come from an Italian-Australian background, you may provide further insight into the effect of the English-Italian language barrier upon your older family members when attempting to receive care (Flindersblogs, 2016). This would be a valuable insight and could help your group have a better contextual understanding of any Italian older adults that could come into their care in the future.
Fosters and develops a bond amongst teams
It’s incredibly unifying when you’re part of a group where everyone is working towards a shared goal. A great way to foster unity and connection between your workplace team is to organise a recurring study session or discussion group that tackles topics related to your collective area of expertise: for example, a group of rural paramedics could meet every month to discuss their experiences of on-site acute care in regional zones.
However, this is also a great way to stay connected with colleagues who you may not work with anymore. Perhaps one of your dream team left or you’ve all slowly relocated to different locations or areas of practice. You can meet – whether in person or on Zoom every so often – to have a chat and discuss developments in your professional lives, as well as to share resources. Maybe you can even engage with those resources as a group and continue to problem-solve as a group. This is great for mental health, your professional network, and your professional skills.
What are some disadvantages associated with collaborative learning?
Unfortunately, working through professional education with other people isn’t always the best choice. It should definitely be an element of your learning plan, but you also need to make time to learn alone. Here are the few disadvantages of learning in a group:
Incompatible learning speeds
This is just a fact of life: some people read faster than others, some people are audio processors while some are visual processors, some people like to dawdle while others get right down to business. These preferences are all equally as valid as each other – it’s just a reality that people learn differently.
So while you may like to meet up and chat for an hour about a topic you’ve both been working on, you may have to bite the bullet and finish the actual learning off at home where you won’t be impacted by someone else’s learning habits that are unusual to you.
Power hierarchies may form
When you’re learning in a group – say three people or more – it’s most effective when everyone works together on the same level. It becomes way less enjoyable and way less effective when one person appoints themselves leader and starts to micromanage the group’s progress.
If this happens, trust your communication skills to convey exactly why you’re all there and how you all prefer to learn. If the self-appointed leader doesn’t understand what you mean, maybe the group dynamics aren’t working and this study group needs to be reassessed. Unfortunately, some people are great to have a coffee or dinner with but may not be compatible with your way of learning.
Some topics may not need groups
It’s best to learn as a group when everyone is new to the subject. However, if you’ve previously studied a topic but someone you’re studying with hasn’t, you’re not necessarily going to be able to study a resource together functionally.
In this scenario, however, you could use it as an opportunity to consolidate your knowledge and teach the other person or people: it’s great for them because they can ask you questions, and it’s great for you because it refreshes the knowledge in your brain. If you can wrangle it to work for you, it’s a win-win!
Where can you learn more?
To learn more about optimising your learning habits and experiences, browse the Learning Theories tab in The Handover! Teaching yourself how to learn effectively is a great use of your time, and will ensure your professional education works in your favour.
Flindersblogs, 2016. ‘Struggles ahead for ageing Italian immigrants.’ Flinders University: News. Accessed 22 June 2022 via https://news.flinders.edu.au/blog/2016/06/06/struggles-ahead-for-ageing-italian-migrants/