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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: Collaborative eLearning

Researchers: Andrew L. Cohen, Bill Penuel, Eliff Trondsen, Kermit Patton, Jeremy Roschelle

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

The people responsible for workplace training programs are beginning to see the power of technology to make useful, cost-effective learning widely available in their company. In this Learning study, Lotus Research explores the premise that to be effective, workplace learning must be designed. In a series of three papers, we review key the principles of cognitive learning and present examples from innovative companies that have used technology to develop successful learning programs for their workers. Our study also examines the potentially central role of knowledge management in training both newcomers and experts.

The key principles of cognitive learning we outline in the first paper are that:

  • Learning takes place in communities of practice.
  • Novices learn to be experts by practice-solving the problems that they are likely to face on the job and then applying that learning to new contexts.
  • Learners can improve their understanding and mastery of a job when they engage in a collaborative learning process, actively sharing their ideas with others and reflecting on what they are doing with others.
New technologies that support communication and collaboration, interactive animated and graphical conceptual tools, and simulated problem solving match what we know about how people learn. If such technologies are well designed, they have the potential to revolutionize corporate learning and innovation.

The second phase of the study looked at real-world examples of companies that successfully put these principles into practice. For example, we examined a consortium that used video conferencing technologies to help community health care workers collaborate more effectively and learn key skills in social and environmental health. Bulad at Buckman Laboratories, an online learning environment designed to build a community of practice among scientists and other staff located around the world, exemplifies well conceived collaborative, distributed learning. A Web-based problem-solving environment that distinguishes between expert and novice problem solving strategies in medical diagnosis shows how technology can identify the appropriate problems for learners to solve in scenario-based learning. The study also looks at two kinds of technologies -- MUVEs (multi-user virtual environments) and knowledge networking environments -- that provide opportunities to build, over time, a community of practice that is specifically designed for learning.

The final phase of the study took a close look at how integrated knowledge management and learning solutions can be adopted to support both newcomers and experts. Examples include how several companies used knowledge mapping, expertise location, storytelling, and opportunities to reflect on problems and their solutions to help novices come up to speed. At the same time, harnessing these technologies allowed experts to interact with one another and continually update their expertise, innovate, and solve emerging problems their companies faced.

The first direct result of the study is our work on Visualizing and Navigating Collaborative Learning, outlined in a separate project description.

Related publications:
TR 00-05. Andrew L. Cohen, Bill Penuel, and Jeremy Roschelle. Designing Learning: Cognitive Science Principles for the Innovative Organization.

TR 00-06. Andrew L. Cohen, Bill Penuel, Eliff Trondsen, and Kermit Patton. New Workplace Learning Technologies: Activities and Exemplars

TR 00-07. Andrew L. Cohen and Bill Penuel. Coming to the Crossroads of Knowledge, Learning, and Technology: Integrating Knowledge Management and Workplace Learning.