Collaborative Learning-Work (CLW) was a concept first presented by Charles Findley in the 1980s as part of his research on future trends and directions. "Collaborative Learning-Work" refers to processes, methodologies and environments in which professionals engage in a common task, in which individuals depend on and are accountable to each other. Many facets of learning-work dialogue are augmented or conducted exclusively in a virtual, computer-supported mediated environment. Computer based collaborative learning-work is also called Collaborative Networked Learning (CLN).
Collaborative learning-work or Collaborative Networked Learning have become popular in various fields toady, including education and business. While professional works are highly specialized and diversified, many tasks and problems today cross over multiple disciplines and fields of expertise. Developments in communication technologies in the new information age have also contributed to the need for CLW. CLW requires interpersonal communication skills and reflects a spirit of interdependency and mutually shared values.
Web based activities have also adopted CLW under various names such as web 2.0, library 2.0, information 2.0 and others.
While the worker in the industrial era factory learned how to manipulate objects and memorized actions, the worker in the modern organization learns how to think, learn and apply information to a task.
Workers need to engage in activities that allow them to approach problems from different vantage points, testing out assumptions, and redefining meanings. Workers need to engage in the social, collaborative exchange of ideas to pose hypothetical problems, general hypotheses, conduct experiments and reflect on outcomes.
Basically, workers are learning in groups to make meaning out of information. Not only do workers need to make meaning out of the information, but to actually perform their jobs they need to be able to share that meaning with others.
Much work in the information age involves collaborative, team oriented tasks. Learning workers share information with one another to accomplish common tasks in a small group. Professionals share information with each other and learn something about each others specialization in order to reach consensus on a common problem. All of these different learning workers are engaging in activities which involve aspects of collaborative learning-work.
More and more, the tasks encountered in the workplace require collaboration between experts from many different fields. Collaboration becomes a necessity for learning about and performing some of our more complex tasks such as network troubleshooting, involving hardware, software, and networking expertise. As knowledge becomes more specialized and problems become more complex, solutions to problems will require the interdependence of individuals working together with each other as part of their job. To succeed in the information economy as it matures, business leaders will rethink the nature of their business and the nature of work. Collaborative learning-work plays an increasingly important role in this redefinition process.
For example, a group of engineers working together from different sites—one in Africa, one in Europe, and one in the U.S.—designs a new drive. The expertise for the new design required each person to learn from the others to pool their knowledge and then represent what they had learned together as the final product specification. This work was accomplished using telephone, E-mail and computer conferencing. Additionally, representatives from two multinational companies working with independent consultants are writing specifications to link the offices of the client company around the globe for voice, text, and data communication. The specifications are reviewed and rewritten based upon the unique requirements at each customer site. A final specification will be delivered without the members of the team ever meeting in person. In this example and many others in today's new work environment, collaborative learning-work is evident. It represents a migration from our traditional forms of work. It is based on group focus rather than individual focus. The members focus on inductive learning processes rather than deduction and application of established rules and procedures. It is therefore, uniquely different from “outsourcing” to call centers. It is also unique in that workers do not need to co-locate with peers, management or factory.
To focus our thinking on approaches and processes essential to collaborative work, consider a simple model of communication process as a guide. A key feature of the work process is purposeful communication. The learning-work of a product design team, for example, involves the individual, intra-personal communication processes going on within the mind of each person and the interpersonal communication occurring among the group from their individual locations.
The goal of collaborative learning work is the creation of a mutual knowledge structure which is derived from group consensus. For example, a work group engaging in the process of design would ideally need to pool their individual knowledge in order to create a new product. They will eventually want to create a shared meaning, which would allow them to take action together to carry out the design.
To achieve the goal, the group is likely to engage in stages which parallel the cognitive problem-solving cycle discussed by Bransford et al (1986). The stages are:
The learning-work group is likely to be recycling through these different stages until consensus is reached.
Logically, it can be stated this way: If the end goals are different, then the tactics and strategies we use to reach those end goals will have to change. If we need workers who can think independently and solve non-routine tasks, then we must start by creating the type of learning-work environments that foster innovation, independent thinking, and creative problem-solving. A closer mapping to the approach and the processes of collaborative learning-work to the outcomes is essential.
Increasingly work is centered not on the manufacture of things, but the generation and refinement of ideas. This fundamental change is likely to provoke far-reaching changes. The human worker is challenged not to apply pre-defined rules in new contexts but to think creatively and learn constantly.
Researchers and educators have contrasted collaborative activities with two other categories—competitive and individualistic. Competitive activities, for example, include those in which only one person can win, or where learners compete for grades, rank, or status, rather than when all members focus on achieving mastery or competence. Individualistic activities, for example, include working in isolation with no interaction with others, or when a learner interacts only with a self-paced manual or CBI, rather than when all members share ideas with each other. Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL) involves utilization of induction, synthesis, and dialog more often than deduction, analysis, and one way information transmission.
The overwhelming conclusion of research in the goals of learning environments is that collaborative, cooperative goal directed activities facilitated by qualified experts leads to higher achievement. Overall higher achievement translates into higher productivity.
Much work in the information age enterprise involves collaborative, team oriented tasks. Learning workers share information with one another to accomplish common tasks in a small group. Professionals share information with each other, and learn something about each others' specialization to reach consensus on a common problem. Assembly line workers have increased productivity when workers learned from each other how their different individual parts of the task fit together to produce the whole. All of these different learning workers are engaging in activities which involve collaboration.
Life-long learning in the workplace is becoming a necessity rather than an ideal. The need for collaboration is great and will continue. By facilitating collaborative methods of learning, we could help workers acquire individually and collectively the rapidly, changing knowledge required in the high-tech workplace.
(For main article, see Web 2.0)
Web 2.0 is a term describing the trend in the use of the World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. These concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies. Business 2.0, library 2.0, information 2.0 and others designate the same trend in each respective area.
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