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Collective learning

Collective learning

Table of Contents

Human beings are social creatures that live in collectives. 

It should come as no surprise, then,  that we also learn collectively.

Collective learning is what many evolutionary theorists think made humans the beings we are today. 

It’s why we can share information efficiently and build new knowledge and technology on top of the ones that came before.

But how does collective learning work in a corporate setting?

We tackle this and much more in our guide. You’ll discover:

  • What collective learning is
  • The benefits 
  • The difference between collective learning and social learning
  • Answers to some frequently asked questions about collective learning

Now, let’s jump right in!


What is collective learning?

Collective learning is a process where a group of people acquires skills, knowledge, and behaviors through interactions with each other and their environment. This includes sharing experiences and information and collaborating to solve problems. 

The result is a collective understanding and intelligence that can enhance the group’s ability to innovate new solutions and advance (and pass that knowledge on to future generations).

A common example of collective learning in action is a study group. Students come together to share their knowledge, discuss relevant complex concepts, and prepare for an assessment (exam, presentation, etc.). 

By working together, each member of the group earns a deeper understanding of the learning material and a chance to hear other perspectives on the topic. As a result, the group performs better in the assessment.

Now, let’s explore the difference between collective learning and social learning.


Collective learning vs. social learning

The main difference between social and collective learning is that social learning is a theory focusing on how individuals learn behaviors, while collective learning focuses on knowledge sharing on a societal level.

Both collective learning and social learning are theories that try to explain how people learn.

However, the two focus on different aspects of the process. 

Plus, collective learning is a wider concept since social learning primarily concentrates on learning behaviors rather than learning in general.

An important point both theories have in common is the understanding that learning and development are, by nature, social processes. 

Social learning

As a theory, social learning emerged in the 1960s from the works of social psychologist Albert Bandura who also coined the term.

Social learning theory is a theory of learning processes that states that it is possible to learn new behaviors by observing and imitating others.

Learning is a cognitive process that takes place within a social environment and can happen purely through observation and instruction. Learners don’t need to repeat the behavior physically to learn it.

According to social learning theory, learning can also happen vicariously when the individual observes rewards and punishments for specific behavior.

We’ve seen what it is. Now for the real question: Why is collective learning important? 

In the next section, we look at the benefits of collective learning for your business.


The benefits of collective learning for your business

The origins of collective learning date back to early man. As human beings, our ability to share information and pass it on to future generations was critical for survival. It’s what separates us from other animals that communicate and use tools (chimps, gorillas, etc.). 

But what about today? 

Collective or collaborative learning remains just as essential. It’s all around us. And thanks to the advancements in e-learning and technology, we use it more than ever. 

In particular, collective learning plays a huge role in corporate learning and development. 

Collective learning is important in today’s companies because it can garner significant benefits for the business. These include:

  • Increased innovation
  • Better decision-making
  • Enhanced problem-solving
  • Improved knowledge sharing
  • Higher employee satisfaction

In a nutshell, collective learning fosters a learning culture in your business. When employees share their experiences, insights, and knowledge within an organization, they learn from each other and improve their collective performance. 

For the business, this leads to a more agile workforce that can adapt to changing market conditions, customer needs, and global events. 

What’s more, companies with strong learning cultures attract and retain the best talent, giving them a competitive edge.

Next on the agenda is how to implement collective learning in your organization.


How to encourage collective learning in your company

We know just how collective learning can positively impact your organization. Now it’s time to get into the how.

How can you encourage collective learning in your company?

You’ll be happy to hear that there are several ways to foster collective learning. Here are just a few of the most effective.


#1 Promote a learning culture

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again. Fostering a learning culture empowers employees to constantly learn and share knowledge.

The best way to promote a culture of continuous learning is by giving staff access to regular training in the form of online courses, workshops, and development programs.  

Informal training is another excellent way to keep the spirit of collective learning alive. This comes in the form of sharing blogs, Ted talks, and articles.


#2 Foster collaboration

Needless to say, creating collaboration opportunities for employees is a powerful way to encourage collective learning. For instance, facilitating cross-departmental collaboration on projects and initiatives. 

This gives employees the chance to build deeper connections within the business and share ideas with people who have fresh perspectives, outlooks, and professional backgrounds.


#3 Use a Learning Management System (LMS) 

This one is pretty essential. 

An LMS sits at the heart of any great learning culture and can be used to create, deliver, and track learning activities on a company-wide scale. 

On top of this, top LMSs like Docebo come with an array of tools that encourage collective learning. For example, employees can upload and share training materials with their peers and ask in-company experts questions about training topics directly from the platform. 

You can also build an internal employee knowledge base where staff can search and share valuable information.

Since an LMS is accessible on any device, staff can pull up relevant information at the drop of a hat.  This encourages them to take ownership of their learning, be more engaged,  and actively seek out learning opportunities. 

To facilitate group learning, opt for an LMS that integrates with video conferencing tools. That way, you can run VILT sessions to encourage group work. 

For HR, L&D, and leadership teams, an LMS offers insightful data into how learning is progressing in the organization. You can pull reports on how many employees have completed training and how often they are accessing the platform. This data will give you a clear idea of how much collective learning is happening.

#4 Set up a way to recognize learning efforts

Human beings are simple creatures. We respond well to receiving praise, recognition, and rewards for our efforts. This applies to learning too. Especially if you want to promote collective learning.

That’s why it’s a great idea to set up initiatives, such as rewards programs, to recognize employees that are making clear efforts to learn continuously and share their knowledge with their peers. 

Examples include bonuses, sharing public recognition on corporate communication tools or LinkedIn, or offering extra training to those who are making the most use of it. 

If you use an LMS, you could create a rewards system by assigning points and badges for every training module an employee completes. Then, a specific number of points or badges can “unlock” prizes or additional training content. 

Leaderboards help motivate employees to continue developing alongside their peers.

All of this will inspire your workforce to prioritize learning collectively.


#5 Start at the top

Leading by example is key if you want to foster a culture of collective learning. So, start at the top by asking leaders to show their own efforts to learn and share knowledge. 

Leaders could start small by completing training courses and sharing their insights on corporate communication channels or LinkedIn. 

Encourage leaders and managers to make a habit of sharing informal learning resources (articles, whitepapers, videos) with their teams. 

Another approach is to ask team members who are taking part in training programs to summarize their takeaways with their team, department, or the whole organization. 


#6 Prioritize communication and feedback

A large part of learning comes from giving and receiving feedback. 

By observing others and communicating what we thought worked well and what didn’t, we’re engaging in some pretty developmental learning ourselves.

And vice versa. Receiving feedback from a range of peers is an excellent learning experience. 

So, to make the most of this integral part of collective learning, your organization will need to prioritize building a feedback culture.

This could include regular one-on-one check-ins, team meetings, and 360 feedback sessions.

Last but not least, here’s a quick recap and some FAQs about collective learning.


Wrapping up

Collective learning is a theory describing how human beings acquire and share information. As such, it is one of the things that makes humans human and allows for the formation of complex groups and societies. 

Without collective learning, one generation couldn’t carry their acquired knowledge over to the next.

In the context of modern businesses, collective learning is still a vital tool that empowers the workforce to advance, innovate, and stay engaged. 

As a result, companies that promote collective learning through lifelong learning and knowledge sharing enjoy significant benefits. These include enhanced performance, a more engaged workforce, and better problem-solving.

All you need to implement collective learning in your organization is a robust LMS, such as Docebo, and the support of company stakeholders.

Fancy learning more about the impact of learning and knowledge sharing on your business? Head over to our L&D glossary for all the essential terms, tools, and tricks of the trade.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is an example of collective learning?

An example of collective learning is when elders in early hunter—gatherer societies taught younger members how to hunt and gather. Elders transmitted assembled knowledge to the next generation, increasing the efficiency of hunting and gathering over time.

Q2. How does collective learning apply to language?

Collective learning couldn’t have happened without language, as that was the medium used to share information. But it was language and collective learning together that enabled people to evolve and innovate based on the knowledge of prior generations.

Q3. Why is collective learning important to the story of human evolution?

Collective learning is important to the history of human evolution because it was what allowed people to pool their knowledge together. If each human being had to learn everything on their own, it’d be hard to perfect skills and technologies. Collective learning allowed both for passing along knowledge from generation to generation and improving upon that same knowledge.