John Bellotti is a Learning Consultant at Humana Insurance, responsible for designing curricula on Humana’s dental and individual lines of insurance. He has also designed for other products, and he currently focuses on supporting call centers from the analysis stage through to implementation and evaluation.
Q. As a consultant in a training organization, I’m guessing that you’re constantly collaborating with various stakeholders. Some of our readers are in the same shoes. In such an environment, what kinds of challenges should we be mindful of?
The biggest problem I see in this area is communication; not that there isn’t always enough, just that the right communication isn’t always there. All areas have their view of a situation, how it can be solved, and their own experiences or expertise. Time often isn’t allotted to take into consideration the differing viewpoints and consider the best options from all points of view. Questions aren’t often asked because instead of working as a collaborative team, as part of the same company, with everyone as part of the solution, training is often seen as a hand-off of a problem that needs to be solved. It should be a collaborative effort from the identification of the problem to the implementation and evaluation of an effective solution.
Q. To help tackle those challenges, various trainers turn to collaborative technologies. What are your thoughts on these solutions?
Technology has the opportunity to distance us as much as it has the opportunity to further connect us. With the technological gaps in generations getting larger and more complex by the day we have a multitude of ways to communicate which is part of the problem. We have online communities in the form of Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and possibly a company’s own internal communities and sites that include SharePoint, Erooms, learning management systems, etc.
In order to enhance collaboration, technology is very important—but if one area of the company, or even an individual in the company, is using one method while others are using alternative methods, opportunities for collaboration will be missed or never take place. There’s some benefit to limiting technological collaborative techniques while still allowing the freedom to explore new ones.
Q. Sounds like there are some pros and cons with technology. I know that technology is often used to provide performance support, sometimes in the form of collaborative learning platforms. What role might technology play in that area?
Performance improvement is tricky in any situation but one thing I’ve learned is that one learning technique does not fit all situations. Technology allows us to do something that other methods don’t: the ability to better fit an individual’s learning style. With technology we can develop material that speaks to a visual, verbal, kinesthetic learner and a variety of other less known learning styles. Better yet, the learner could potentially even decide how they learn the material if it is well-designed.
One portion of learning that isn’t given enough credit is the collaborative aspect of learning. Some of the toughest assessments I ever participated in were collaborative multiple choice tests and presentations. Multiple choice tests often get a bad rap as “multiple guess” tests, but they can be used to spark collaborative learning. When designing the test, make answers similar on purpose, because similar answers will spark debates amongst test-takers. By the time the correct answer is discovered, so many things have been discussed and learned.
In real life we learn many things from other people and collaboration is a natural aspect of learning. People always seek out those who know the answer and in turn they are often sought for their expertise on something else. So can people learn better in collaborative learning platforms? Under the right circumstances it would be hard to argue otherwise.
Q. What might collaborative learning look like in the future?
I see a combination of collaborative and instructor–led training being more of the norm in the future as long as designers are willing to embrace technology as a part of the learning process rather than a manner of cheating.
In the right training applications I see instructor-led training being combined with a collaborative platform from a simple chat feature to an electronic posting board, or even a virtual community where learning and reinforcement of learning takes place in many forms; a place where people are allowed to use each other for a resource as much as they use technology or the facilitator. It may even be possible to determine who the “go-to” person or leader is in the class by monitoring chats and posts in order to see who is giving answers, if their answers are correct, and maybe even how they handle themselves so that they may be considered for a future leadership path.
Q. Sounds like you’re describing an online learning community. Are you familiar with that term?
I feel online learning communities are still finding their niche in society but I believe what will happen is that we will see a continual evolution that links us back to a social physical community. By this I mean, as technology develops we will begin to see more “face-to-face” interactions via web chats, online worlds, and other forms of visual communication. As a society we have learned or are learning to do without the visual connection but we also seem to realize we often are missing certain contextual parts of conversations and a more emotional connection to people.
In the future we will continue to see static online learning communities from the more benign like chats or blogs, to courses online that incorporate computer-based training, self-paced activities and such, to more involved instructor or even student-led online courses where the instructor is more of a guide on the side than a sage on the stage. I believe the more benign methods will always exist but we will return to the methods that create a more comprehensive connected experience that allows the full context of learning to be realized.
Q. Great thoughts John—thanks for sharing. To end, do you have any resources you’d want to recommend to our training and development readers?
I can’t give a specific site or publication because I do research based on particular needs. Of course I read magazines like Chief Learning Officer, ASTD publications and such but as a designer of curriculum my biggest challenge is to incorporate multiple learning styles into my curriculum. My best resources are those that involve sites and articles that discuss people with learning disabilities. The reason why, is that people with learning disabilities have more extreme learning needs and often respond best to specific learning techniques. Often times these techniques are good for the general learning population and can be integrated into a more effective learning experience.