The modern business and professional worlds have very little room for isolated individualism. Shared learning is a model for the way nearly all business are organized. Business and most of modern life are organized around groups of people. People, like most of nature, naturally organize into groups, from families, through tribes through klatches, committees, and corporations. Working in groups takes advantage of resources brought to each task by all the members. If the group is cohesive, it generates an atmosphere of reward. The achievements of all members fill a kind of interpersonal tip jar whose benefits are shared by all group members. Groups don’t tolerate the complacency of individual members. The group plods and cajoles members in effort. Groups may react to anyone who does not share group motivation, because such individuals could lead to the destruction of the group itself.

What is Shared Learning?

Shared learning is more than simply learning in a group. Not all classroom learning is shared learning. Groups do little to enhance memorization or rote knowledge acquisition. The definition of shared learning is:

“…the process of working collectively to achieve a common objective in a group.”

This definition has two important elements.

  1. Shared learning is based on solution to problems. It implies that learning groups are task oriented, solving problems.
  2. Shared learning implies working on issues with others who share the problem. The solution to the problem has to be seen as a positive outcome for everyone in the group.

Shared learning does not make the following assumptions:

  • Learners are receivers of knowledge from books, experts, or teachers.
  • Learning is “behavioristic,” mechanical connection between stimulus and extrinsic reward.
  • Learners are “blank slates” without have prior knowledge or experience, ready to fully absorbed from endless knowledge storage sources.
  • Skills and knowledge are best acquired as principles learned outside of practical experience.
  • Shared learning is not so much about information and fact gathering, but about problem solving. When people enter a shared learning experience, in most cases, they not only achieve a solution to a problem but the participants learn problem-solving techniques they may not even be aware of.

What are the Effects of Shared Learning?

Business coach James O. Rogers makes note of the power of shared learning when he witnessed how the teams of Mississippi Power workers dealt with strategies for handling the cleanup for Hurricane Katrina. It was not so much in the efficiency of the workers, but in the way they organized themselves that the training was visible. He writes:

“The power workers were saying things like ‘first things first’ and ‘before we decide what to do next, let’s seek to understand.” The training the workers had received together had taken place more than a decade prior. And yet the workers at Mississippi Power were still creating and implementing effective strategies by using what they had gained from a shared learning experience. They were able to be so effective because they shared a common understanding of what was important and a common language for talking about it.”

Experience in shared learning is a learning-how-to-learn experience. This kind of shared learning experience helps a group cohere and over the long term. The challenge of finding a solution together forges lasting relationships within a group, while forcing the group to develop the language to talk about what is at stake.

Shared learning is part of the development of an organization’s learning culture, where continuous learning, cooperative problem solving, and the acquisition of the personal techniques to manage and form effective working groups is part of the long-range operation of the organization. In talking about the creation of a “learning culture” in an organization, training consultant Tala A. Nabong notes,

“Shared learning enables companies to increase their staff quicker and solve problems more efficiently.”

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