Collaborative learning using

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Information Services have piloted a book group for in-house staff development workshops. Here Faye, from Information Services’ Staff Development and Training group, tells us how it works and how you can set up a similar session for your team.

Update February 2019: has now been rebranded as LinkedIn Learning. The post below still applies to LinkedIn Learning, and links to any content have been updated to point to the new LinkedIn Learning platform.

The challenge

Trying to meet requests from IS staff for time-management training, but working with a limited budget, Information Services’ Staff Development and Training Group pondered how we could encourage staff to make use of the excellent free resources on Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning).

Time and again we’d heard “but our staff don’t like learning from videos, they want in-person training” or “people never get round to watching videos, it’s easier to commit to a training session on a set date and time”. So we decided to give a Lynda book group a try.

What is a Lynda book group?

A Lynda book group is like any conventional book group, but instead of reading a book before meeting, everyone in the group watches the same course or video on (now LinkedIn Learning)

The group then meet to discuss what they’ve watched.

How we did it

Picture of a rich-tea biscuitAlthough we weren’t experts in time management, we were the most comfortable with and facilitating a group, so I and my colleague Jill volunteered to plan the first session. We chose David Allen’s Getting Things Done course, as Jill had found his book on the subject very helpful.

We contacted everyone on the waiting list for the Time Management session, explained the book-group concept and gave them the links to the course to watch in advance of the session. Everyone was asked to have a go at applying the techniques from the course and to make a to-do list to bring to the session.

To facilitate the session we prepped some PowerPoint slides based on what we thought were the main discussion points from the course (as we watched it too) and then we laid out the essential tea and biscuits.

The session was great. No one had wanted to be the one who hadn’t done their homework, so everyone had watched the course and had a stab at a to-do list. We shared ideas, discussed the challenges and offered solutions. At the end of the session the group enthusiastically agreed to meet again, and put forward the topic for the next session (prioritising your time).

And so it went on. For another 4 sessions, until the group agreed we’d learnt what we needed.

What people thought of it

Feedback from the sessions was overwhelmingly positive, with people saying that the book-group method worked better for this topic than more traditional staff training:

“Really engaging way to learn – [I] can’t just sit and be told stuff. Engaging with the subject before going meant that I had questions and experience to share. It was great to have feedback and tips from other trainees about what they did / what had worked for them. I think this model of course could be applied to some of the central uni courses that I’ve been on in the past year.”

“I really enjoyed the format of the session. Although I was initially daunted by the homework, I got so much more out of the session than having someone presenting or watching a video collectively. With the format as it is, the group is able to discuss their experiences and share tips rather than do a workshop and go away and work things out on their own”

“It was good to have input from a group and learn about other options that people are using in Time Management.”

“I thought this took my learning further than any other more traditional time management course I had attended. By the time I attended the session, I had already tried to apply some of the techniques, enabling me to explore further via discussion with the group during the session. I also found the group very supportive and it encouraged me to apply the techniques.”

We finished each session asking the group if they wanted to meet again, and we ended up meeting for five sessions in all, with an average of eight people per session. Which speaks for itself.

How to set up your own book group

It doesn’t take much doing. Basically you need:

Someone willing to organise it

You don’t need to be an expert in the topic (in fact, it can be better if you’re not). But someone needs to arrange the time and the venue, and send out the information to the group  including:

  • Information on how the book group works
  • Links to the chosen LinkedIn Learning course or information on how to search for them on LinkedIn Learning (it helps to spell out exactly how long the course is and how much time to set aside for exercises)
  • A reminder to watch the course before the session

For the session itself it helps to have something for the group to record ideas on – flipchart paper, walls or a touchscreen.

And biscuits. Biscuits always help.

A group who all want to learn

We tried the same book group topics with 2 different groups. The first group had all volunteered to join the session as they desperately wanted to improve their time management. The second had been told to go on the course by their manager, who had heard of the success of the first group and thought it would be useful for her team. The second group fell flat (as no one felt they had a problem with managing their time!)

A course to watch

  • If you have a specific learning need, search LinkedIn Learning for appropriate courses. For tips to help you find resources fast, see our How to start learning with LinkedIn Learning page.
  • If you’d like to set up a Time management book group, see Information Services’ Time Management book group site on SharePoint Online, which lists the LinkedIn Learning courses our group watched, along with the tasks set for the group in advance of the session, as well as the powerpoint slide decks used for each session. Feel free to steal whatever you want!
  • For inspiration on what you can learn with LinkedIn Learning, take a look at our LinkedIn Learning board where colleagues have shared courses that they have found useful.
  • You can also apply the book group concept to other eLearning courses. How about a GDPR book group, to help your team understand how the learning from the GDPR course can be applied to their work?

Someone to facilitate the group

In each session, it helps to have someone to start the ball rolling. If we’re honest, we over-planned the first session and realised that for any eLearning topic (whether you know the subject or not) you can guide your group by posing the following questions:

  • What did you think of the course?
  • What are the main themes?
  • What didn’t work for you?
  • How will you apply this?
  • What next?

We found the group then found its own way – discussing what was important to them.

The facilitator is not there to have the answers to the questions. That is for the group to discuss and agree.

Give it a go!

We think book groups (or collaborative learning, to label them in pedagogical terms) are great for staff development, so give them a try.

Please get in touch with any questions: Faye Brockwell (2654) or Jill Shacklock (2667).

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