All together now… Collaborative Learning

Coming together is a beginning.DSC00991
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success. (Henry Ford)

Collaborative learning, Communities of practice, Networking are all used as a way of specifying a group activity where the main outcome is to learn from each other. It is all very nice and the idea is quite fantastic with a lot of good research to back it up, which you can read in the references below. But there are certain factors that need to be addressed before we all go and implement this idea in the classrooms.

Collaborative learning takes many forms it could be when you are brainstorming an idea with your group, sharing your work to the group, writing together, taking part in social media discussions and group projects.

For it to be effective, there should be both “group goals” and “individual accountability” (Slavin, 1989). In a classroom situation the collaborative learning task must ensure that every group member has learnt something.
According to Vygotsky (1978) students can perform at higher intellectual levels in collaborative situations than when working individually and that group diversity can contribute positively to the learning process.

The benefits of collaborative learning

  • It deepens your understanding of a topic
  • Makes you proactive and a confident learner
  • Importantly, by engaging in discussion and taking responsibility for their learning, students are encouraged to become critical thinkers (Totten, Sills, Digby & Russ, 1989).
  • It has been consistently found that students who learn most are those who give and receive elaborated explanations about what they are learning and how they are learning it (Webb, 1985).
  • Research demonstrates that network-based collaboration may provide opportunities for more equality in group work than actual face-to-face group work (Cohen, 1994; Johnson,Johnson and Holubec, 1993; Kessler, 1992)
  • ICT tools – eg: Online discussions with various tools – students who might be shy at voicing their opinion face-to-face now have the opportunity to express themselves
  • Analysts of the future job market already speak of the need for future workers to be able to adapt to this type of work environments. By putting emphasis on teamwork through ICT tools, the students will learn to think creatively, to solve problems, and to make decisions as a team. Furthermore, they will be in control of technology and not slaves to it.

The College Preparatory School is making collaboration the driving force in their learning. This is a great example of how collaborative learning is already being used for deeper learning.


Students speak out on the negative side of Collaborative Learning
Here is an overview of what the students think about collaborative learning you can read more in depth on the site link but the major qualms were:

  • People need to go at different speeds
  • Someone may try to take over the group
  • Quiet people may not feel comfortable
  • Sometimes people just don’t get along
  • People may not pull their weight
  • It is not fair!
  • A concept may not be understood as well if a person doesn’t have to figure it out
  • The time spent talking about irrelevant topics is unbelievable

Personal responsibility

As part of the ONL course we are to work together in groups and collaborate on each topic. As it states above there are pros and cons to this form of learning and we are all going through them one by one. We decided from our online meeting to collaborate in a Google document by commenting on each other’s summaries of the articles we had divided up between us. We are to present our findings according to the PBL model to the other groups and give feedback to theirs. I have worked in both face-to-face groups and with purely online groups and still the same problems arise (see above on the negative side of Collaboration). So how are we to improve this form of learning? I believe, as Wenger, E. (2010) states in his very interesting Community of practice article, there is a personal responsibility that comes with social participation, given our limited resources of time, attention, and memory, we have to make decisions about how we participate in landscapes of practice. And this I believe is the crux of the matter.

Articles we collaborated on as group:

  • Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Available here.
  • Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice(pp. 179-198). Springer London. Available here.
  • Capdeferro, N., & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44. Available here.


  • *Constructing Knowledge Together (21-45). Extract from Telecollaborative Language Learning. A guidebook to moderating intercultural collaboration online. M. Dooly (ed.). (2008) Bern: Peter Lang
  • Gillies, R. (2014). Cooperative learning: Developments in research.International Journal of Educational Psychology, 3(2), 125–140.
  • Roseth, C. J., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2008). Promoting early adolescents’ achievement and peer relationships: The effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures.Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 223–269.
  • Slavin, R. E. (1995).Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Slavin, R. E. (2013). Classroom applications of cooperative learning. In S. Graham (Ed.),APA handbook of educational psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Webb, N. M. (2008). Learning in small groups. In T. L. Good (Ed.),21st century education: A reference handbook (pp. 203–211). Los Angeles: Sage

7 thoughts on “All together now… Collaborative Learning

  1. Hi Maddy! I read your blog post yesterday and I have been thinking of what to write to you… Then I just read Veronicas blog post at the same topic and I think that this personal responsibility that comes with social participation has something to do with maturity. At some stage in life (sooner or later) you realize that 1+1=3 and the you are motivated to collaborate and not only consume. Does my comment make sense?


    • Yes makes perfect sense but I do believe that most of the students of today have already got it, they just need to be taught on channeling it in the right direction & with teaching them digital literacy 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Maddy and colleagues,

    From my own experience, quite often we, as adults, do not know how to collaborate in a face to face setting to start with, we are not used, we don’t have the skills, the institutions where we work most of the times emphasize solitary work (lecturer, researcher!), the physical space promotes isolation and not collaboration, the culture itself may promote this type of behavior (and it is across geographies!) and then suddenly…we find ourselves in these digital worlds, where learning, research is supposed to be collaborative, open, and we don’t have the skills set, mindset, to deal with it…


  3. Hi Maddy thanks so much for sharing your post; it is so true, we do need a sense of personal responsibility when contributing to groups. Otherwise it is too easy to just let everyone else do the work, and rest on their input. However it is also difficult as adults to find time and to prioritise learning among all the other things going in in our busy lives! Our group has had a lot of difficulty in just finding times where everyone is available to meet, but fortunately technology is helping us achieve asynchronously. It’s the expectations we hold of ourselves and others that makes a difference too :).


  4. I definitely agree that for social learning to work the participants need to have an understanding of reciprocity. Unless all participants are ‘in it together’ it won’t be as effective. This is why so often group assignments fail, and why I don’t think that necessarily working in a group equates to collaborative or social learning. When it aligns, it’s magic. When it’s forced, and participants come to the learning opportunity with different values/motives/goals, it just doesn’t work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Maddy, what an interesting post, thank you! I was captured by your final reflection on personal responsibility for collaborative learning. Socialising a sense of personal responsibility is definitely important, but this needs to come with a recognition that groups (such as ours) are not formed by equals. We might all feel equally responsible for the successful completion of a task but what each one of us can offer to the collective effort may not be (and it is not) the same. My maxim for collaborative work is one you may be familiar with “From each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs”. It’s quite dated but still, in my humble view, very relevant in the context of ONL group work.


    • Yes maybe I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be about the personal responsibility. I think our group, as indeed many, need some sort of values as well as goals, we are adults not teenagers and should know better on how to collaborate and help each other out.


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