The days of writing with pen and paper in a technology-free classroom are over. It’s not uncommon for young students to learn the basics of coding instead of the ins and outs of cursive handwriting. Technology in the classroom is the new frontier.
One thing that can fall by the wayside in an e-learning environment is collaboration. It can be hard to feel connected to your classmates and teachers — and even harder to work together when you’re separated by screens or distance.
So how can teachers and employers use e-learning platforms that encourage collaboration and teamwork? Where should you focus your energy? When used well, technology can actually improve collaboration and make students feel like they are truly working together with a group. When students feel engaged with each other and like they are a part of something, it is easier for learning to happen.
Make Sure Everyone Understands the Importance of Collaboration
Collaboration is extremely important for success and versatility in both the classroom and workplace. If people don’t know how to work together and value other people’s opinions, progress will be very difficult. In the real world, interacting and working with other people is a regular part of life. Because of this, collaborating should be a part of everyday learning in order to prepare learners for success in the future.
Recognizing the different communication styles and how people are prone to interact is a great place to start. In an online setting, opportunities for communication look a little different than they do in person, but they may actually help more people get involved in the long run.
Instead of people competing for their voices to be heard or valued, all voices are on an even playing field online. There is no shouting over one another or competing for air time. This can be hugely beneficial for those whose voices are quieter or less dominant.
Introverts, for example, might feel more comfortable contributing to group discussions online than they would in person. Activities that build collaboration in an e-learning setting are effective, so be sure to use them. Collaborative learning is essential for well-rounded students and employees, so make sure that everyone knows this and understand why you are asking them to do certain things.
Create an Engaging Environment
If you don’t create an engaging environment, collaboration is going to be difficult. It’s essential to be aware of how to implement new technology in an online classroom. Learners must feel engaged online because the separation of a screen has the ability to make people feel uninvested in their work or their colleagues. You as a facilitator must find ways to keep your learners and employees engaged online so that they don’t use the lack of in-person contact as a reason to mentally check out.
Make It Personal
You can create an engaging online learning environment by helping people connect with one another on a personal and professional level. Do icebreaker activities at the start of lessons or projects to foster bonding and connection.
You could, for example, ask each student or employee to make a 30-second video introducing themselves to the class or answering a specific question. If you can take any opportunity you have to make people interact, connection and collaboration will grow.
Aspire to keep things interesting for people, making them want to interact. There are only so many online quizzes or video lectures someone can endure before they mentally check out. Use everything you can (and everything in moderation) to keep people interested. Videos, written responses, interactive slides, peer feedback, quizzes, and independent research can and should all be utilized in an e-learning environment.
Set High Communication Standards
Fostering collaboration in an e-learning classroom means setting up standards for communication that everyone must adhere to. When you remove face-to-face contact, communication changes. People might feel more comfortable to say things online that they wouldn’t in person. Sometimes this could be a good thing, but it could turn into people sharing rude comments or not communicating mindfully.
In order for collaboration to be enhanced by technology, all learners must feel safe and comfortable to share questions and thoughts online. If learners fear bullying of any sort in an online platform, they will be less likely to contribute in an authentic way.
Improve Online Collaboration Through Discussion Boards and Feedback
Luckily, there are tested and proven techniques that can improve online collaboration. Connecting and working together in an e-learning environment is very possible. Remote learners can feel like part of the team, and facilitators can feel like they have a connection with their students.
The first and foremost thing to focus on is healthy forms of communication. Without it, no one can succeed. According to George Washington University, “Transparency and open communication are requisite for building effective teams. Free communication allows team members to feel valued, voice their concerns and add their perspectives.”
Clear and healthy communication strategies must come first. Once you have that down, you can utilize the unique things that e-learning environments offer, like specific apps for team collaboration, online discussion boards, video meetings, organizational chat systems, and clear avenues for feedback.
Focus on Feedback
Feedback can be difficult to both give and receive online. Tones can be misconstrued, leading people to analyze every comma and worry about what someone actually meant. Because of this, the more frequent the feedback, the better. Discussion boards are a great way to get people used to interacting on a regular basis and understanding how each other communicates.
Because face-to-face connections are lost in an e-learning environment, feedback is a huge way in which connection is made. So, it’s important to get it right. Using procedural feedback to identify areas individuals excel in and those in need of improvement is key. End with questions to provoke further thought and discussion.
If your students feel that their work is valued and they are receiving thorough and thoughtful feedback, they will likely feel more invested in their own work. When they learn how to share that type of feedback with peers, you will know you have hit your mark. Peer feedback is one of the best ways to foster collaboration within a group. It builds both trust and engagement.
Successful e-learning teams take advantage of all these elements. Fostering collaboration in online learning environments takes effort and work, but it’s clear that students and facilitators who take advantage of advancing technology can come out on top as well-rounded and versatile in whatever field they choose.