Learning organizations need to rethink their approach. Developing employees requires more than a good personalized, online learning offer. Collective learning – in interaction – naturally suits us humans best. Organizations should make more conscious use of this.

Organizations want to understand how to create a learning culture and provide employees with a wide range of learning & development opportunities to develop individually. Employees confirm that they want to learn, hence, personal development is a much-ticked requirement for working and staying at an organization. In practice, however, the motivation to learn and walk that talk proves to be a tough subject.

At school we already like to consult with each other, chat, share information, discuss things, challenge, play, copy, talk, disagree and agree. Learn together, instead of alone.

It is not without a reason that many HR leaders are making an effort to further develop the learning & development (L&D) offering in the organization. Data will be used even more in this and the coming years, for in-the-moment, asynchronous learning, with content for exactly your profile. Personalized. For individuals. But aren’t we first of all social creatures?


Personalized L&D does not just yield returns. Studies show that scrap learning, or the loss of what you have learned, is between 45-85%. The human brain is not very good at remembering data without regular repeating what’s been learned. Learning in practice often is said to count for 70%. And in practice means also with others, in interaction with coworkers and even customers.


Our brains forget quite a bit overnight, and that’s a good thing, because that way the brain stays tidy: we let go of weak information and weak connections. Maybe you remember the forgetting curve from Ebbinghaus? To forget is human. Interaction with others and putting to practive what we’ve learned, strengthens our wiring and indeed makes perfect, or at least better!


No time, too little relevance

Incidentally, employees regularly do not even use up the training budget. Research shows that this can be as much as 40%. No time or too little relevance are often the reasons. Strange, because they demand L&D capabilities from their employer, and you provide this, to keep them happy, productive and improve retention.

One of our customers is currently conducting qualitative research & dialogue with 8,000 employees to understand why this also happens there, what hinders them, what would help them, what the organization could do differently, how they can learn from each other, etc. Open questions provide valuable and organisation-specific insights to understand deeply how L&D can do better.

The solution is not only to further personalize learning, and break up the learning content (short learning moments, limited amount) in small pieces, and bring it online, although I support this very much. However, I add to this the power of collective learning and intentionally plus interactively put things into practice and get that above mentioned 70% going. Do you know that employees themselves indicate they prefer to learn in interaction with each other?


Individual learning is not a holy grail

At school we already like to consult with each other, chat, share information, discuss things, disagree and agree. But very often, that’s called ‘cheating’ and ‘being easily distracted’. However, the emergence of project-based and team working, and collaborative learning shows that individual learning is not a holy grail.

When crossing the road in traffic with groups of usually complete strangers, recommendations for new movies on Disney+, solving challenges at work with crowds of colleagues: two know more than one. Collectively you learn more and faster. So why and how can we put collective learning more at work?

The book Superminds by Thomas Malone, but also a completely different book, Natural Intelligence by Leen Gorissen, show wonderful examples of how human learning systems and networks function and evolve. Collective learning enhances and connects each individual with others and new perspectives.


In connection with others

An example. If you want to learn Spanish, an app like Duolingo allows you to learn online, at a time of your choosing, personalized little bits at a time. Yet we all know that you only really learn to speak the language if you connect with others. By interacting with others, sharing stories, and really applying the language within a meaningful, real-life context.

Collectively, together with others, and in context. And not just apply it unilaterally, because through interaction the group will influence, correct, supplement, nuance and offer new valuable learning. But the other way around as well: others learn from you and be refreshed or learn new grammar that they never got around to themselves. This is collective learning, better yet, collaborative learning.

Scientifically said: the agents in a network mutually influence each other and jointly store the ‘learning’. This is how language comes about, growth and development and people can relate to each other and be a group. We’re wired to connect and are first of all social animals. Shouldn’t social and collective be key words when designing L&D solutions and programs?


Understanding agility

Another example – from an organization we work with. This organization is concerned with agility. They started a project team to develop agility and to train key roles in the organization, both individually and as a small collective (team training).

But the organization realizes that learning is not just about individual and team training and that thinking and rolling things out top-down is risky. If the 4,500 employees in question do not collectively, as a group, as a network, understand, live through and embrace the importance and the how/what of agility, then agility will have little chance. People are at the heart of any change success, or the failure of it.

By interacting in this way, via asynchronous dialogue at this scale during days, employees experienced involvement, openness and indicated that they understood a great deal about necessity, approach and consequences.

The organization asked us to strengthen their collective and collaborative learning. Together we designed challenging, open questions, based on our unique 1,000+ open-ended question library, and framed the questions with a clear context in the invitational mail, including an inspiring video from management. Employees participated at their own time and pace during a couple of days for the first round, and a couple of days during the second round. In this second round they read, learned from and scored others’ opinions and answers up and down to validate and emerge leading insights. Collectively, they accomplished 300,000+ learning moments.


Wired to collectively learn

Collective learning and interacting with each other is, in my opinion, an immense, and too little tapped, source of learning matching how our social brain works. We need context, and we can only understand and further shape that context in interaction with others.

Without context, what has been learned will not land and without learning, many employees even consider the L&D offer as irrelevant from the start, according to research. If you know that the organization is not working convincingly on for example agility, and the work floor and you yourself are not involved in it, interact accordingly, no one wants to follow an ‘agility’ training.

No matter how easily it is offered, online and in the smallest chunks: people like to skip it if it lacks relevance and applying things together and interactively. And if they do sign up for such training, they forget most of it, or worse: they do it mainly to improve their curriculum on Linkedin and to strenghten their position on the labor market, but not to strengthen the organization.


You get the best out of yourself, with the help from others, and the same goes for all of us.

Nice to learn Spanish or something about agility, or anything else, but only if the relevant context is there, to collectively apply it, and mutual learning takes place, then something really happens. Then you make an impact and that motivates and activates our dopamine system. We are made to wired together, to connect with each other and together. To learn, and change and evolve our minds, in interaction.

In my opinion, L&D programs and – strategies should include and be based as well on collective, social and collaborative fundaments, as well as personalized aspects. You can start by engaging employees to find out what they prefer, request, and aspire, short and long term, and most important: why. Allow employees to learn from each other via co-creation and dialogue. Tie these qualitative insights into your L&D strategy. That’s the first step yourself to learn from the power of collective intelligence and collaborative learning.

What’s your approach and thinking about L&D going forward?

Contact us for more insights, cases or exchange thoughts.





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