In learning sector, the COVID-19 Pandemic is an ultimate adaptive and transformative challenge. It has imposed rapid and sudden changes of learning setting, where all components of the learning process are carried out online and humans contact are no longer necessary. However, learning keeps evolving and people must still develop the skills needed to meet the demand of future jobs. Recognizing the fact that learning takes more place with engagement, interaction, and collaboration process, and given the present fact that the human contact is not existent in learning, would collaboration be still possible?
The demands in Industrial Revolution 4.0
The world is in the midst of a significant transformation in most of all aspects, where people are faced with the major shift of how industry takes place in the society and how it affects the skills needed to go alongside with the rapid advancement of technology. This transition is often called Industry 4.0, a new phase in the Industrial Revolution that focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data. Industry 4.0 also sometimes referred to as IoT (Internet of Things), where the things (devices) around the world are connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data.
Therefore, to anticipate the impact of these changes, business sectors make huge adjustments and they should also equip their resources with skills that to meet the market demand. The corporates’ learning and development swiftly examine and evaluate their learning content, so it will be in line towards the environment needs in the framework of industrial revolution 4.0.
In their article titled “The Entrepreneurship Learning in Industrial 4.0 Era”, Ulani Yunus and Muhammad Hidayat (2019) stated that there are at least three impacts for organizations as the response to the new technological changes, namely:
- The need to improve the skills and the work habits of the employee.
- The elimination of low-level positions and managerial levels.
- Hierarchy reduction (it is because the work will be more oriented to the cooperation or collaboration).
Therefore the workers in the industrial era 4.0 will be dominated by self-directed personality that strive for being involved in larger communities and expanding networks.
The vision of “industry 4.0” is also characterized by highly individualized and at the same time cross-linked production processes. Physical reality and virtuality increasingly melt together and international teams collaborate across the globe within immersive virtual environments. In this context, a large market arises in the field of virtual trainings, which means that professional trainers need to explore the potential of new learning settings. In the context of the development from purely document based management systems to complex virtual learning environments (VLEs), a shift towards more interactive and collaborative components. 
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) keeps the learning going
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was first proposed in education sector, as a platform to have blended learning or flipped classroom (where there were combinations between face-to-face learning method and systematic independent study). It refers to a system that offers educators digitally based solutions aimed at creating interactive, active learning environments. It helps educators create, store and disseminate content, plan courses and lessons and deliver learning materials to students via the web, including assessment, student tracking, collaboration and communication tools. VLEs foster communication between student and educators and offer not only an elegantly designed space for teaching and learning but a place where learners, teachers and students feel at ease.
Since the modes of learning have evolved overtime, from only lecture-style instruction, delivered face-to-face in a classroom where the learners role was to sit still and listen to flipped and blended learning, learner-centered and multi-ways communication. The need of VLEs has also increased, especially when the skills to join global competition in Industrial Revolution 4.0 (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity) have also changed. Fast forward to today and learning and development (L&D) professionals now have countless strategies to adapt to the changing needs of both the learners and the environments they are training in. Especially now, with growing concerns surrounding coronavirus, corporations, like schools and universities, are turning into online education and this is where VLEs come in handy.
Effective VLEs: The Advantages and The Must-Haves
There are several advantages to a virtual learning environment. Firstly, they offer a well-distributed place where the diverse activities of learners and facilitators can be easily managed. Secondly, they help with class administration and organisation; they assist in the creation of lesson plans; they manage the assessment and monitoring of students; and they aid discussion with and support for students. Finally, VLEs allow learners to easily access tasks and assignments as well as work at their own pace in and out of the classroom.
The shift of leaning modes requires not only careful instructions, competent facilitators and engaged learners, but they also require suited infrastructure to make the learning experiences meaningful. Therefore, some facilities of creating effective VLEs like Video Conferencing, Lesson Recording and Video Creation Tools, Learning Management System (LMS), Cloud-Storage Tools, Exam and Assessment Software, Scheduling Platform and Library Resources should be also existent. With such infrastructures and facilities, eLearning, video-based learning, microlearning, gamification, action learning, social learning and a growing list of new trends, L&D professionals have now entered a new world with endless possibilities to engage learners.
VLEs and Collaboration
One of the biggest factors that contribute to the success of businesses is the ability to perform a team. With increasing competition, it has become extremely important to encourage creativity in the office, to improve productivity and promote healthy employee relationships. Collaborating also makes employees more responsible, which goes a long way in raising their motivation levels, especially when teams work virtually. Hence, the opportunities for collaborative work should be constantly explored and the collaborative skills must consistently be developed.
However, no virtual environment can replace the interaction of two human beings and collaboration is a key indicator of effectiveness in learning, both face-to-face and online. Therefore, the best VLEs must also have a personal touch and this can be obtained by having an actual teacher/facilitator in the room, synchronous online time with a mentor, real-time chats with colleagues, or enforcement into courses using augmented reality (AR) or virtual classrooms.
In enforcing collaboration in student-centered learning, the facilitators give learners more control over what they learn, how they learn and when they learn a particular topic. In an eLearning setting, immediate feedback is highly expected and the grading features in the LMS should be utilized to keep learners involved. Facilitators should also encourage students to interact and respond promptly to questions and comments in the forums and chat rooms. This degree of personal interaction makes learners more active in their own learning process and has resulted into meaningful outcomes.
The Design of collaborative VLEs
VLEs can be designed with consideration to the contexts needed by some corporations. In most of cases, VLEs are designed using a template framework provided by educators for educational solutions such as LMS. Ghislain Maurice N. Isabwe from University of Agder in Norway suggested that a useful LMS should support at least: Learning activities and Learning resources, Communication, Collaboration, Assessment, Multiple-devices (Personal Computers, Tablets and Smartphones) and features that enable the engagement and collaboration among facilitators and learners. 
As for corporation contexts, a learning and development course and its content materials for learning and development training should be treated as a living product and should be continuously redesigned to meet the business targets. To engage learners and to make them collaborate, blended strategies should be implemented. For example, conducting introductory workshops prior the course, inserting elements of gamification and elements of the other people creating their own segments of the course, so it is not designer-centered. Small group assignments and required forum discussions give opportunities for learners to participate fully and to explore their both individual and group ideas. The facilitators should also be able to adopt, adapt, develop and improvise the content materials and assignments.
Developing VLEs’ Lessons and Evaluation for Collaboration Process
The goal of collaborative learning activities is to provide learners with learning opportunities where they can interact while sharing and processing new information. According to Michael Higley from eLearning Industry (2016), evaluating online collaboration can be challenging and require the instructor to create assessment tools that evaluate individual student learning and group participation. Therefore, to examine learners’ experience in VLEs, the process of learning should be reflective.
Meaningful self-reflections are important for determining the level of online learning interactions, community building and overall understanding of learning objectives. It allows learners to connect with content at a much deeper level and provide the instructor with evidence of individual learning. The reflective assessments for eLearning and development can be completed through e-journal writing, where learners provide their learning experience stories and compare their learning standard to the ones of other group members.
Together We Achieve More
Collaboration is one crucial skill that need to be constantly developed to meet the demand of Industrial Revolution 4.0. Even though now people are forced to change the business strategies drastically due to COVID-19 pandemic, where human contacts are made limited, collaboration must not stop. Corporations should nurture its existence by developing proper instructions and establishing effective VLEs in their learning and development sector. By having stronger collaboration within the company and with other companies, they do not only expand network but also grow the company stronger.