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Collaborative Learning-Work was a concept first presented by Dr. Charles Findley in the 1980s as part of his research on future trends and directions. "Collaborative Learning-Work" refers to processes, methodologies and environments in which professionals engage in a common task, in which individuals depend on and are accountable to each other. Many facets of learning-work dialogue are augmented or conducted exclusively in a virtual, computer-supported mediated environment.


Collaborative learning-work occurs in the context of a group with a common mission or agreed-upon-purpose. The work involves the structuring and restructuring of conceptual knowledge. The final product is a message, an external representation or "artifact" of the group knowledge at a particular point in time, which communicates the knowledge of the group. The message might take the form of a software program, a report, a strategy document, a diagram, a drawing, etc. Learning-work involves the cognitive processes of assimilation (intake of information from the environment, accommodation), restructuring to fit new into the old, present structure, and integration (directly fitting information into existing structure). And most importantly it involves the resolution of conflict between old and new knowledge structures, which can lead to innovation.

Learning-work most likely includes a variety of processes which begin with ill-formed concepts, which are tested against experience, and which are enriched by new information throughout.

Goal of collaborative learning work: creating shared meaning, knowledge in a teamEdit

The goal of collaborative learning work is the creation of a mutual knowledge structure which is derived from group consensus. For example, a work group engaging in the process of design would ideally need to pool their individual knowledge in order to create a new product. They will eventually want to create a shared meaning, which would allow them to take action together to carry out the design.

Creation of shared knowledge structures involves symbolic interaction rather than manipulation of raw materials. The meaning is not carried in the electronic signal, the raw material of the information age, but is derived through the group interaction. Humans use their symbols to create, re-create, and share meaning and understanding, i.e. to develop new concepts. The use of symbols to create a shared knowledge structure is a primary focus of collaborative learning-work. Accurate transmission of the electronic signal is the means to the objective rather than being the final outcome.

To achieve this goal, the group is likely to engage in stages which parallel the cognitive problem-solving cycle discussed by Bransford et al (1986). The stages are:

  1. Identify--individuals can agree that a problem exists but yet disagree on how to define or represent it
  2. Define--how the problem is defined influences the types of solutions the group will generate, it involves assumptions and constraints
  3. Exploration--the search for solutions that the group can agree will respond to the need as defined
  4. Act--involves testing out hypothesis about the solutions to see what will work and what will not meet the defined need
  5. Look--involves observation of the effects.

The learning-work group is likely to be recycling through these different stages until consensus is reached.

Logically, it can be stated this way: If the end goals are different, then the tactics and strategies we use to reach those end goals will have to change. If we need workers who can think independently and solve non-routine tasks, then we must start by creating the type of learning-work environments that foster innovation, independent thinking, and creative problem-solving. A closer mapping to the approach and the processes of collaborative learning-work to the outcomes is essential.

Increasingly work is centered not on the manufacture of things, but the generation and refinement of ideas. This fundamental change is likely to provoke far-reaching changes. The human worker is challenged not to apply pre-defined rules in new contexts but to think creatively and learn constantly.

Work tasks require more team collaborationEdit

Much work in the information age enterprise involves collaborative, team oriented tasks. Learning workers share information with one another to accomplish common tasks in a small group. Professionals share information with each other and learn something about each others specialization in order to reach consensus on a common problem. All of these different learning workers are engaging in activities which involve aspects of collaborative learning-work.

More and more, the tasks encountered in the workplace require collaboration between experts from many different fields. Collaboration becomes a necessity for learning about and performing some of our more complex tasks such as network troubleshooting, involving hardware, software, and networking expertise. As knowledge becomes more specialized and problems become more complex, solutions to problems will require the interdependence of individuals working together with each other as part of their job. To succeed in the information economy as it matures, business leaders will rethink the nature of their business and the nature of work. Collaborative learning-work plays an increasingly important role in this redefinition process. For example, a group of engineers working together from different sites-- one in Africa, one in Europe, and one in the U.S. designs a new drive. The expertise for the new design required each person to learn from the others to pool their knowledge and then represent what they had learned together as the final product specification. This work was accomplished using telephone, E-mail and computer conferencing. Additionally, representatives from two multinational companies working with independent consultants are writing specifications to link the offices of the client company around the globe for voice, text, and data communication. The specifications are reviewed and rewritten based upon the unique requirements at each customer site. A final specification will be delivered without the members of the team ever meeting in person. In this example and many others in today's new work environment, collaborative learning-work is evident. It represents a migration from our traditional forms of work. It is based on group focus rather than individual focus. The members focus on inductive learning processes rather than deduction and application of established rules and procedures. It is therefore, uniquely different from “outsourcing” to call centers. It is also unique in that workers do not need to co-locate with peers, management or factory.

Work involves intra-personal and interpersonal communicationEdit

To focus our thinking on approaches and processes essential to collaborative work, consider a simple model of communication process as a guide. A key feature of the work process is purposeful communication. The learning-work of a product design team, for example, involves the individual, intra-personal communication processes going on within the mind of each person and the interpersonal communication occurring among the group from their individual locations.

See alsoEdit


  • Bransford, John et al. 1986. "Teaching Thinking and Problem Solving" American Psychologist. 41,10,pp.1078-1088.
  • Findley, Charles A. 1989. Collaborative Learning-work. Presentation at the Pacific Telecommunications Council 1989 Conference, January 15-20, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Findley, Charles A. 1988. Collaborative Networked Learning: On-line Facilitation and Software Support, Digital Equipment Corporation. Burlington, Massachusetts.
  • Findley, Charles A. 1987. Integrated Learning and Information Support Systems for the Information Age Worker. Presentation at World Future Society Conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 1987.
  • Friedman, Thomas. 2005. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Findley, Charles A. 1989. Open Communication Systems Beyond the Classroom. Presentation at World Future Society, July 16-20 July, Washington, D.C.
  • Levy, Frank and Murnane, Richard J. 2005. ‘’The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market’’ Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.
  • Malone, Thomas. 2004. The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard Business School Press.
  • Peters. Thomas J. and Robert Waterman. 1982. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Peters, Thomas J. 2006. Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age (Paperback). New York: Dorling Kindersley Adult.
  • Pink, Daniel. 2005. “A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age,” New York: Penguin
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