Skip to main content

Collaborative learning is where 2 or more people work together to achieve desired learning outcomes. This is typically done in small groups of 3-6 people, but can be done by much larger groups depending upon the topic. Group members may work at different geographical locations and may never physically meet, but this will not affect outcomes if carried out efficiently. 

There are a number of benefits to working collaboratively.  

  • Knowledge and skills become a shared resource. Group members may be appointed to carry out specific tasks based on their skills, or may share these skills with other group members, hence new skills may be learned. 
  • Work can be divided up so that more tasks and goals can be achieved in a shorter time than individual or small group collaborative learning. 
  • Larger problems can be tackled than could be considered by individuals or smaller groups. 
  • Collaborative working can improve psychological wellbeing and sense of belonging. 
  • Collaborative work can develop a sense of competitiveness amongst group members as well as between different groups. 
  • Collaborative working also develops students’ social skills such as teamwork as well as academic skills such as critical thinking. 

Best Practice Tips

Examples of collaborative work with large groups: 

  • Asking small groups to peer teach the rest of the group, typically in the form of short presentations to teach a single aspect of the learning. 
  • Rotate small groups within the larger group, e.g. pair work, 4-person group work, feeding back to larger groups, feeding back to whole class. Groups can be rearranged to allow learners to work with a large number of the group. 
  • Team-led cooperatives, developing and promoting a new product or service as part of an enterprise activity. 

To ensure effective collaborative work: 

  • Establish clear goals at the beginning of the project so each participant knows what the outcomes should be. Using real world problems for project work ensures interest and understanding of how the project fits with learning goals. 
  • Establish ground rules for group working considering that the larger the group the more diverse the membership will be in regard to ethnicity, gender, previous experience of group work etc. 
  • Provide scaffolding with new groups who are not used to working collaboratively so they are guided through the process. 
  • Ensure there is sufficient access to, and knowledge of how to use, collaborative technologies such as shared storage, video-conferencing applications, etc. 
  • Consider carefully how assessment will be conducted and how effective learning will be for all members, especially if roles have been given to individuals. 

The problems: 

  • Difficulty in getting started. If the goals are not clear, allocating tasks and roles will be difficult. 
  • Difficulty in communicating. With distance learning students who may be on different time-scales, meetings need to be very carefully scheduled. Lack of technical skills may also affect communication as well as personality conflicts in the group. 
  • Some students may not carry out their allotted tasks and therefore will be carried by the rest of the group. Ensure that the group monitor this and deal with it at an early stage. 
  • Difficulty focussing on the project. If learners have different modules/assessment timetables, then it may be difficult to continue contributing to a collaborative project at assessment hand-in dates. 

Further Reading

Laal, Marjan and Ghodsi, Seyed Mohammad (2012) Benefits of Collaborative Working, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 31 (2012) 486 – 490.