Cooperative Learning For the Corporate World

When I was a public school teacher I was trained in the "group learning" approach known as Cooperative Learning (a nice overview is here). In undergraduate classes I studied Johnson and Johnson's work in the subject. In actual professional practice I was certified in Dr. Kagan's approach to cooperative learning. (Here is a teach-nology.com webpage with links to all kinds of information on the subject.) Suffice it to say that there is a huge body of research on this subject as it applies to the field of public education.

Enter the Corporate World
I work in the corporate world now (healthcare) as an I.T. Educator. Things are different on the corporate side of the fence. But the science (and art) of learning are unchanged. There is no reason to believe that cooperative learning does not apply in a corporate setting. In fact, I argue that it is more applicable for modern enterprises, which is why it must become more widely adopted in public schools.

In my healthcare organization, teams must work cooperatively to properly treat a patient. Ultimately, we are paid on our ability to work together efficiently and effectively as a team. The better we do this, the better our bottom line. Soon Medicare will punish hospitals that actually make patients more ill than when they arrived. My goal is to help train all the variety of staff members on using the modern technology available as a means to a more efficient, effective workplace. I can see no better place than here to utilize the concepts of Cooperative Learning.

Main Concepts
In concept its similar to Project Management techniques and approaches with one special exception: the group has a vested interest in each member's success. It's not really cooperative learning unless the following conditions are met:

  • Positive Interdependence: each group member's work is essential in completing the project or task
  • Individual (and Group) Accountability: the entire team succeeds together (one person alone can not "win it" for the group)
  • Equal Participation: each member has equal participation - no attention "hogs" or super stars or bullies
  • Group Interaction: members must interact with each other to accomplish the task or project - it's not like working on a factory production line.
Big Takeaway
For me the big takeaway is this: we must learn to work together and structure things so that we each have a vested interest in the other's success. There are very few things in life which are zero-sum games - where if I win, you must by default, lose. In fact those organizations which can learn how to attain the win-win approach are best suited to take advantage of the economy of the future.

I'll know this is in place at my organization when I see employees who lack a certain skillset, and other team members realize how that negatively impacts the team, AND they encourage and help the "deficient" team member to become proficient... instead of pointing a finger of blame, shaking their heads going "tsk, tsk, tsk."

Old School Vs. New School
Old school thinking was this: "If I have special knowledge that others don't have... then I'm powerful and important and irreplaceable". That worked fine back when knowledge, skills and information was the important economic commodity. Today this is still true to some extent. But the truly successful organizations realize that the new economic commodity is the ability to work well on a team (or to lead the team) and the ability to adapt quickly to changes.

Changes are coming so quickly that what once qualified as special knowledge just 2 years ago, may be completely obsolete today. We can not afford to hang all our hopes on our limited set of special knowledge or skills - outsourcing has shown us this time and again; someone else is willing to do what I can do for less money (and they have the same special knowledge or skill as I do).

The special knowledge or skills of the future are: social skills and adaptability.

The New School of thought is not centered completely on myself, but rather on how I can contribute to the team, and how we team members can succeed at our project or task.

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