Collaborative learning is an alternate training approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of students working together to solve a problem. It is through the discussions that learning occurs.
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Recently, I have been part of two training sessions that took a somewhat different approach to learning. I participated as a student in one session and was a facilitator in the other. The sessions had minimal presentation materials, with most of the learning taking place in collaborative, group discussion environments.
In the first session, the class was split into small groups of four to five people each. Each group was seated at a table which had a large poster on it containing visual descriptions of numerous business processes and customer interaction scenarios.
After a brief introduction by the facilitators, there were no more slides used in the class.
Each group was provided a deck of about 20 cards. Each card contained a leading question or a “what if” scenario. We students took turns reading the text on the card aloud, which was followed by group discussion where everyone provided input.
A facilitator was there to keep the discussions from straying off course, but otherwise let the student discussions serve as a means to discovery.
What made this first session so interesting was that the participants held different positions in the company. Each had a unique perspective that helped those from other business areas see problems and challenges from another perspective.
In the second training session, the purpose of the class was to help solve a specific, current company-wide challenge. The students in this session all performed the same task, though at different company branches.
Again, few slides were used. These slides had the purpose of generating group discussion and input. In some cases, facilitator demonstrations supported the discussions, but for the most part the students were learning from each other.
Either of these two types of training sessions would have application to a diagnostic class in the area of vehicle maintenance. What else can vehicle diagnosis be if not problem solving?
Troubleshooting scenarios and related leading questions could easily replace the materials described above. There is a strong likelihood that one student in the class has encountered a similar situation and can share his or her resolutions with the rest of the class.
There may also be a use of this technique in a class that includes employees from different areas of maintenance, where a specific business challenge may exist, to help all students see the impact of their actions and decisions on the group as a whole.
The thing to remember about using alternate training techniques is this: It isn’t really about training, it’s about learning. The technique should align with the learning goals, not necessarily what best suits the trainer or facilitator.
Stephen Howe is a field trainer and technical training consultant for United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company with more than 850 branch locations in North America. www.unitedrentals.com. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global organization of training managers from automotive aftermarket, OEM, supplier, service tool and training companies.