Collaborative Learning

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This page was originally authored by Gioia Breda and Yvonne Dawydiak (2008). This page has been edited by Claudia Jack (March, 2010)

The value and applications of collaborative learning are important to consider in the design of educational environments due to the changing face of schooling and the workplace.


Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.

~Vince Lombardi (1913-1970), football coach for the NFL

The key to the learning processes are the interactions among learners and the collaboration in learning that results from these interactions.

~Palloff and Pratt (2003)

What is Collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning is an instructional method that encourages learning through peer collaboration as students work towards a common goal becoming responsible for one another's learning as well as their own. Thus, the success of one student helps other students to be successful (Gokhale, 1995). It has characteristics which are focused on group processes.[1] In contrast, individualized instruction supports students working at their own level and at their own rate to achieve a goal.It places emphasis on the roles of the individual as well as the individual within the group.

Collaborative Learning is similar to, yet distinct from, cooperative learning. In both models of learning, there is division of labour[2]. The following are some differences (Dillenbourgh, Baker, Blaye & O'Malley, 1995).

Mutual engagement of participants
A coordinated effort to solve the problem
Continuous shared conception of the problem
Division of labour
Individual responsibility for sections
Coordination when assembling partial results

This distinction is crucial when developing effective collaborative learning environments. Many efforts to design instructional activities have not afforded true collaboration, thus weakening their efficacy. An example of characteristics of Collaborative Learning can be found at [3].

Justification for Collaborative Learning

Proponents suggest that social interaction increases motivation and interest in content while helping to maintain active learning over an extended period (Guthrie, 2001). Further, it promotes critical thinking among a group of learners, allowing students to share expertise and form a higher order understanding of a given topic. Through discussion, clarification of ideas and evaluation of others' ideas, learners are able to develop and share tacit knowledge, or knowledge that is embedded in individual experience (Gokhale, 1995; Paavola, Lipponen & Hakkarainen, 2004)

While explicit knowledge is easily conveyed, the development and sharing of tacit knowledge has long been a difficult area for traditional teaching and workshop methods. Discourse within a community of learners provides an opportunity to share and develop this knowledge. Collaboration allows for knowledge creation or innovation in schools and the workplace (Paavola et al, 2004).

The ability to evaluate information and make decisions as a team is critical in today's dynamic context. Individuals must collaborate creatively to tackle a variety of challenges including the constraints of time and space (Beldarrain, 2006). In response, technological advances have been made to facilitate such communication, allowing companies to restructure and place a greater emphasis on teamwork. This age of change is frequently termed "Post-Fordism".

Classroom & Design Considerations

Pedagogical goals and learning outcomes: Collaborative learning is more effective in enhancing critical-thinking, concept learning and problem solving while individual learning does an equally effective job of transmitting factual knowledge (Gokhale,1995).

Group size and selection: According to Rau and Heyl (1990), smaller groups (of three or fewer) contain less diversity and may lack divergent thinking styles and varied expertise that help to animate collective decision making. Conversely in larger groups it is difficult to ensure that all members participate. Modes of group selection include self-selection, random assignment or criterion-based assessment. Depending upon the group dynamic, the mode of selection may also affect the outcome.

Choice of strategy: Implementing the appropriate strategy plays a large part in the ability of learners to progress within a Knowledge- Building Community (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). Possible strategies include jigsaw learning and think-pair-share. [other useful methods include [4]

On-line modes of collaboration: The internet and a variety of Social Software, have provided opportunities for participation in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Communities (CSCL's). Further, distance education has been transformed through the development and use of synchronous (real time - instant messaging & conference calls) and asynchronous (not in real time - wikis, discussion forums, blogs & google docs) on-line communication. Earlier on-line and distance learning courses did not afford this opportunity hence, learners were isolated. Isolation limits the ability to fully develop cognition.

Key tensions: Concerns raised by educators include increased noise level; classroom management issues; individual student accountability (Goldman, 1996). Of course, the development of social software and related technologies mitigate many of these concerns. Editing or creating a wiki page, for example, allows students to collaborate in an on-line environment and affords the instructor the ability to monitor individual student effort.


What's New in Collaborative Learning?

With the speed of advancements in technology, we are at a pivotal stage in the development of collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning is a useful strategy for enhancing learning using multiple modalities. This will cater for the diverse needs of the learners.

Related Links


Overview of Learning Theories

PBL Problem Design

Student Teacher Applications (of CSCL)


Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development

3D Virtual Learning Environments

Video Examples

[5] Emphasis on the roles of participants,characteristics and benefits of CL.

learning from Teacher TV

Tips on Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning A synopsis.

Promoting Collaborative Learning Using Wikis

Collaborative Learning: Stop Motion

A Stop Motion Artifact: (by Caitlin Langford, June 2015)

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning: Stop Motion Pt. 2

A Stop Motion Artifact: (by Justin Wu, January 2017)


Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments (pp.25-55). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance Education Trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153.

Dillenbourgh, P., Baker, M., Blaye, A. & O’Malley, C. (1995). The evolution of research on Collaborative Learning. Retrieved February, 19, 2008, from CSCL-A brief overview Web site:

Gokhale, A. A. (1995, Fall). Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking. Journal of Technology Education, 7(1). Retrieved February 16, 2008, from Digital Library and Archives database.

Goldman, S. V. (1996). Mediating Microworlds: Collaboration on High School Science Activities. In T. Koschmann (Ed.), CSCL: Theory and Practice of an Emerging Paradigm (pp. 45-82). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Guthrie, J.T. (2001, March). Contexts for engagement and motivation in reading. Reading Online, 4(8). Retrieved March 1, 2008 from

Palloff, R. & Pratt. (2007) Building online learning communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom (2nd.Ed.) San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass.

Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models: Volume II (pp.216-239). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Jonassen, David H, Peck, Kyle C., & Wilson, Brent G, (1998). Creating technology- supported learning communities. Adapted from: Learning with technology in the classroom: A constructivist perspective. New York: Merrill/Prentice Hall. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from

New London Group. (1996). Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66(1), 72-76.

Paavola, S., Lipponen, L. & Hakkarainen, K. (2004, Winter) Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities and Three Metaphors of Learning. Review of Educational Research 749(4), 557-576.

Pea, R.D. (1993). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47-86). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Piaget, J. (1947). La Psychologie de l'Intelligence. Paris: Armand Colin.

Rau, W. & Heyl, B. S. (1990). Humanizing the college classroom: Collaborative learning and social organization among students. Teaching Sociology, 18, 141-155.

Rogers, Y & Price, S. (2004). Extending and Augmenting Scientific Inquiry through Pervasive Learning Environments. Children, Youth and Environments 14(2), 67-83. Retrieved Feb. 28 from

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 256-283.