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Tools for Better Communication, Training, and Development: Collaborative Learning Maps

Tools for Better Communication, Training, and Development: Collaborative Learning Maps

John Colaruotolo's picture
John Colaruotolo
May 17th, 2018

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Organizational leaders often wonder why their content and messaging, which they have gone to great lengths to communicate—often repeatedly, simply doesn’t “sink in.” I hear leaders voice this frustration while seeking to impart everything from cultural values to new product information. One consistent contributing factor is that people are not given the chance to play an active role in their learning process. They are not given the opportunity to engage colleagues in processing material or thinking through its implications on how they work. Enter one of my favorite tools: “Collaborative Learning Maps.” Collaborative what? 

Okay, let me explain. 

We recently partnered with a global financial services company whose flagship product set offers stellar customer benefits. Their exceptional product set is—by its nature—so complex that even the sales team has trouble sometimes understanding it. We proposed a new approach—allow employees to develop thorough understanding of the product set through a set of interactive activities. These activities would be delivered via large tabletop exercises, also known as “Collaborative Learning Maps” (CLMs). These maps are visually engaging, content rich, and foster small group discussions focused on why the content matters. The client agreed to this approach and offered the CLM activity to all employees through a series of workshops. With over two thousand employees having taken part in this training—far more than just the sales team—there is now a broad-based understanding throughout the company about how this product set works and why it matters to customers. 

So here’s what we did.

Step 1: Input

The first step in developing the learning maps was to work with our client to identify the critical messages that participants needed to walk away understanding. Based on these objectives, we worked to communicate key information in the most concise, and visually compelling manner possible. Content was broken out into digestible chunks and paired with interactive activities. The goal was not to provide a set of “right” answers, but to spark the right conversations and generate new insight by pairing information with thought provoking questions and activities.

Step 2: Activity Design

The Collaborative Learning Maps we developed for this client took participants through four major activities over a two-hour period of time. The first section focused on customer needs by providing a set of personas (name, age, marital status, profession, life circumstances) and companion deck of question cards (“Will I be able to afford my dream house?” or “hHow do I plan for elder care?”). The groups were asked to discuss the potential relationships between the personas and the cards and to identify common or timeless needs and potential solutions. 

Having laid this foundational understanding, the activities then centered on explaining the ins and outs of the product set. In each subsequent step, the content was introduced via images and diagrams. These visuals functioned as shared reference point for participants as they asked questions, agreed and disagreed with interpretations, reframed notions, and constructed their own mental model of the concept. 

Alongside the visuals were prompts which guided participants to hone in on key concepts and then to engage in a discussion around the implications of the various components. For example, the group was asked to think about the advantages and disadvantages for different customer segments or to debunk common myths surrounding this type of product offering. 

Step 3: Implement (and Hand Over the Reins)

We rolled out the Collaborative Learning Maps at an annual leadership summit of 150 executives. Participants worked on the maps in small groups of three to four reconvening at the end to engage in a facilitated dialogue around key insights and takeaways.

Once the learning map and supporting materials were developed they were easily reproduced and shared across the global company. Paired with a facilitators’ guide that included both logistical and high-level guidance, our client was armed with a new and powerful version of the “meeting in a box.” Since our initial session, the client has used learning maps at dedicated meetings and as additions to existing gatherings. 

Collaborative Learning Maps serve as a strong tool for enhancing learning, but they go beyond this to foster a culture of idea sharing and collective knowledge pooling. Such a culture paves the way for ongoing organizational learning. 

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