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Collaborative Online Learning vs Event-Based In-Person Learning

Have you ever made the mistake of sitting at the ‘wrong table’ during an in-person learning event? Maybe you had little in common with those you sat by, maybe they had different learning goals that you did, or maybe their personalities made it difficult for you to feel comfortable enough to share your point-of-view. Did you find yourself eyeballing nearby tables that seemed to be getting a lot more out of the learning experience, and wish you could join them?

In-person, event-based learning experiences restrict learners to working with others that are within their immediate vicinity: not just within the room, but at their specific shared table or workspace, and by the event’s geographic location. You have little control over who you wind up sitting next to.

And not everyone feels comfortable at in-person events. A learner might have learning disabilities that clash with the tight schedule of event-based learning or could struggle with the primary language that the event uses. Some people feel very shy about speaking off-the-cuff during events. Others simply need or prefer more time to process what they’ve learned before contributing. Event-based learning rarely accommodates any of these example needs. Add in jetlag for those travelling to attend in-person events, the distraction of being out-of-touch with work matters if learning takes place from 9-5, and the fiscal stress of commuting or coordinating the event, and event-based learning’s shiny exterior starts to flake.

The primary appeal of event-based learning, particularly in-person learning, and the reason that learners and organizations continue to shoulder the costs and stresses of attending or coordinating these events, is because there’s a chance for learners to connect meaningfully with peers. Yet just because learners attend the same event doesn’t mean they will connect with each other, much less in a meaningful way! Some event-based learning experiences have no collaborative elements or are little more than everyone logging on to watch a lecturer at the same time, with limited ways to interact with each other (at least in-person, you can pass notes!).

Virtual collaborative environments allow learners to work together and connect regardless of physical proximity, ability to travel, or time needed to process information. Learners can contribute at their own pace, so long as they are communicating with and interacting with their peers and can create meaningful peer connections with fellow learners from all over the globe without the added pressures of cost, travel, and inflexibility of the event’s schedule.

Collaborative environments that take place online also allow more learning to take place over time. Longer periods of learning mean more opportunities for learned concepts to be internalized, tested, and peer-reviewed in a less time-constrained atmosphere. Compare this to many event-based learning experiences that boil down to how quickly learners can take notes in a two-day period. Which do you think shows better long-term results?

Download our definitive guide to online collaborative learning for more.

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