Collaborative Learning


1. How to understand and operationalize collaborative learning


Co-creation or co-construction contained in collaborative learning seem to be highly legitimate learning processes since there is no social inclusion without interaction and cooperation. Collaborative learning has been widely -spread teaching/learning strategy over the last two decades.

Collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is a teaching strategy engaging small teams, of learners who possess different levels  of competencies. They  learn together and above all they learn from each other. Collaborative learning is about positive interdependence. Due to collaborative learning  learners get aware  that better performance by individuals leads to better results of  the entire group (Johnson, et al., 2014). It often comprises specific teacher intervention thus maximizing  learners’ interacting and learning.

How to overcome cognitive dissonance and contribute diverse knowledge to reach common goals.

Credit: Tibor Kajan


The learning processes enable members of the learning group to learn about

  1. How to understand new concepts;
  2. How to achieve  goals and acquire resources; 
  3. How to work in a most diverse team;
  4. How to help each other towards jointly achieving a set of pre-agreed academic and other goals;
  5. How to distribute and accomplish the assigned tasks;   
  6. How to observe and handle relationships in most diverse groups of learners and finally
  7. How to prepare  public presentations of the learning results.

There is no social inclusion without co-operation. The concept is related to creating a consensus building through collaboration of group members

Collaborative learning involves a set of processes stimulating learners’ interaction. All members of the learning group are jointly responsible for the results of their learning.

Concepts related to collaborative learning are numerous: social interdependence, socio-cultural environment, cognitive development, social skills, learning skills, group dynamics, group learning, individualistic learning, transformative learning etc.


2. The collaboration based learning-teaching environment

  1. provides for cooperation;
  2. supports permanent learning;
  3. triggers intrinsic motivation for learning;
  4. provides opportunities for each learner to be successful;
  5. contributes to the development of social and individual skills, but it also
  6. causes worry as it requires learners to be successful at all stages.

Collaborative/cooperative learning exists when learners work together wanting to accomplish shared learning goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). “Each student can then achieve his or her learning goal if and only if the other group members achieve theirs.” (Deutsch, 1962).

Learners  engaged in collaborative learning group may increase their  self-esteem, may better and deeper understand  both the content and the skills they are studying.


The teacher’s role

Collaborative learning methods may  encompass  well-defined procedures. Teachers triggering collaborative learning are supposed to apply these procedures in an exact sequence of steps.

  • (1) Learners  learn in small (from 2-6)  and most diverse groups (according to their learning competencies, age, gender, etc.)
  • (2) Teachers  start their interventions  by describing precisely what learners  are supposed to learn and  should be able to do on their own in real life; 
  • (3) Teachers should nit employ technical terms , their language should be simple and should describe  in a clear way what knowledge and which  competencies learners have to acquire and  later demonstrate to others on their own. Learners need to know  what they are  to do, what materials they will use and in what order. Learners should know what they are to produce as evidence of their mastery of both content and learning skills.
  • (4) Groups of learners have to demonstrate  interactive competencies such as leadership, building of trust,  management of conflicts,  constructive criticism, encouragement;
  • (6)  Each group and each learner should have enough time to learn what has to be learned;   
  • (7) Each learner  is individually responsible for doing their own share of the work;  
  • (9) Learners reflect upon their  common learning.  

This last characteristic is not typical of any other learning method.


Collaborative teaching/learning methods 

Collaborative methods  are of two types, some are direct and therefore easy to learn, others are more conceptual. Once they are  mastered they can be adapted to different learning fields, become internalized  and can be used routinely.


Collaborative learning is the opposite of competitive or individualistic learning

Competition means that  the participants work on their own or with as little  interaction by the teacher as possible. Rewards for their learning are scored from best to worst. On the other hand individualistic learning and efforts  mean that  social interdependence between participants is of low. Participants learn without help of others and there is a minimum of interaction and  a minimum of rewards given to participants according to set criteria. 


Main concepts and terminology

Co-operative/collaborative learning, interdependence, trust, task distribution, interaction, communication, individualistic learning, socio-cultural environment, group dynamics, team work.


3. What is the theoretical underpinning

Collaborative learning may be applied in  most different environments  and  is  based on a variety of theories.  

Constructivism: Social interaction can change  learning. Members of the learning group bring in their own knowledge, combine  it with the existing knowledge and construct new knowledge together assigning it the meaning.  

Social interdependence theory. The sociologist Kurt Lewin studied groups , particularly small groups and identified groups as dynamic entities that promot or hinder  learning. Morton Deutsch went on saying that there are  different types of interdependence.  When based on cooperation of group members  correlation among group members’ goal achievements is positive.

Sociocultural theory of development. Lev Vygotsky suggests that learning takes place when and if students are able to solve problems with the support of their peers and  teachers. They solve them  better than expected on the basis of their current developmental level. Moreover,  it has been found  that positive interdependence among the group members is essential for collaborative learning (Davidson and Major, 2014; Johnson, et al., 2014).

Interestingly collaborative learning uses both goal interdependence and resource interdependence , thus creating  interaction and communication among members of the group.

In collaborative learning the results obtained are as important as the process of obtaining them within small learning groups


4. Examples of practical activities

Family, identity, tradition, customs, habits,  relationships are all part of  intangible cultural heritage, etc.

  • Our family mat

Learners go into groups of four.

Sitting around the table they write about their family each in one corner of the mat.

“A group psychologist” observes the group dynamics.

The mat is then presented to other groups


  • 18 summers

The teacher introduces the learners to his/her own family as it was  in the times when he/she turned 18.The teacher  has to clearly describe the end product of the learners’ cooperative learning. This has to be well understood therefore he /she provides his/her own example. This interactive exercise is devoted to describing  the family background answering questions:

    • In what kind of family were you brought up? (a middle-class family, a family of intellectuals, a working-class family engaged in communist movement, etc.

    • What was your father like, your mother like, your attachment to your parents?

    • Who were members of your family?

    • Did you live in a town or a smaller settlement?

    • Describe your house or flat.

    • What were you doing at the age of 18?

    • What did you hope for?

Learners can agree upon additional questions.

Photo credit: Dušana Findeisen

Teachers’ example: Have a look at my family picture taken when my mother turned eighteen. In your opinion who is who in the picture? What is going on? What are their feelings? Are the characters related, are they relatives? Where are they, what have they just done? Where are they going next?


Teachers’ instruction for the learners:

    • Go into groups of four, present pictures of your family, and learn together and from each other.
    • Study your past, particularly the times when you turned 18. What were the characteristics of these times in your particular case?

    • Tell the group about your family: where were you born, where did you live when you turned 18 , how did you feel. What kind of upbringing did you receive?

    • Produce a European booklet on those times  and rituals in place when you turned eighteen; think of your story and think of the way you will present your stories in public. Structure your stories before you start. You can use different tools; a picture, a film, a text.

    • Produce a booklet; write an introduction, design the booklet, choose decent fonts and colours; add photos from your prime ball for instance, use the documents showing that you had passed the baccalaureate exams etc. Produce  a YouTube film  to talk about this cultural heritage you share

    • Choose music and sound to accompany your film

    • Present the film collectively

    • Discuss the group dynamics by using the following template

    • Discuss the present continuous tense used for the description. In this picture the socially most  important character is----How do your account for that?


5. Interative exercices

Read the following statements and tell if they are true or false

      1. Collaborative learning is exempt of teachers control

      2. Collaborative learning provides for reflection about group processes and group dynamics

      3. Collaborative learning has a number of advantages over individualistic learning

      4. Collaborative learning has to be time limited

      5. For applying collaborative learning it is obligatory to understand the concepts related to it.

      6. The teacher has to provide for an example of what he requires learners to do


6. References

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Smith, K.A. (2006). Active learning: Cooperation in the university classroom (3rd edition). Edina, MN: Interaction.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Holubec, E.J. (2008). Cooperation in the classroom (8th edition). Edina, MN: Interaction.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Smith, K.A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. JournAl on Excellence in College Teaching 25, 85-118.

Love, A. G., Dietrich, A., Fitzgerald, J., & Gordon, D. (2014). Integrating collaborative learning inside and outside th iniie classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 177-196.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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