Collaborative learning

Me, myself, I like human beings, interaction and collaboration with others. Even though I prefer collaboration I am also able to work on my own. Flexible online learning should be flexible also about collaboration. Students have different learning styles, different personalities, differing levels of skill and also different life situations. However, collaboration enhances the development of critical thinking, reflection, and co-creation of knowledge and meaning, and transformative learning. Furthermore, it encourages life-long learning in the individual as well as the group. Collaboration prepares students for future work outside school and puts them in a social context. However, collaborating in online activities is different from IRL and other skills and behaviours are needed.

In e-learning, a delay of interactions might cause frustration among the students and conflict with their own objectives, interests and requirements. Capdeferro and Romero found that it was imbalance in commitment, responsibility and effort that was the biggest source of frustration for students participating in online learning.

Hrastinski describes synchronous and asynchronous learning and collaboration. Synchronous learning seems to be a good way to create a community; get to know each other in the group and plan tasks together. In our PBL group we have had difficulties with the synchronous collaboration and I think it might be because of that we have difficulties moving forward. Furthermore, it seems difficult to get an asynchronous discussion going with few participants. That is true also for our PBL group where we are only three participants (and two facilitators). Asynchronous collaboration/learning is a key component in flexible e-learning and a good way to discuss content related issues. It also gives the student time to reflect because an immediate answer isn’t expected.

One way to make students collaborate online is to assess both the product and the process of the group work. Like in the FDOL we are supposed to collaborate in the PBL-groups and then present our work in the other bigger communities. The process of the collaboration is followed by the comments made in the groups.

The higher a learner perceives the level of collaboration the more satisfied they are with e-learning overall. Brindley and Walti described seven strategies of importance to increase motivation to participate in study groups and to improve the quality of the collaboration.

1. Facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills.

2. Establish a healthy balance between structure (clarity of task) and learner autonomy (flexibility of task)

3. Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community

4. Monitor group activities actively and closely

5. Make the group task relevant for the learner

6. Choose tasks that are best performed by a group

7. Provide sufficient time

I think the meeting IRL of the Karolinska group before starting the FDOL was a good icebreaker that facilitated further collaboration online. It also helped to have the possibility to try the platforms before the course started.

In the FDOL the PBL groups were formed by the teachers, but there are also the bigger community’s where learners may comment and discuss. There are specific clearly stated tasks but also flexibility for the learners to select and investigate own topics, something that facilitates group dynamics and socializing.

I think this is very important to establish a sense of community. As mentioned before the tone changed in our PBL-group after having a hangout. Also with time passing there seem to be more openness and trust, therefore it might be good not to start the online course with a group work. If the group work is started later on it would also allow for learners to acquire skills to actually be able to succeed in the collaboration.

If teachers give constant feedback and information the learners are kept on track and also feel more confident that they are on the right way, so to say. A delay in feedback may cause frustration among the learners.

Having the group chose subject according to mutual interest might help to motivate the collaboration. However, if the group have difficulties reaching a consensus of what subject to choose, motivation might also be lost in the process. Learners engage more if the task is considered relevant and useful also in real life situations.

It is important that the task is appropriate for group work.

There should be enough time to complete the task (including planning, discussions and so forth). I think this might be a challenge for the teachers, to estimate the time, when they plan an online course. Of course there need to be a time limit, and that set limit could also help the learners in their planning.

The text above is based on own reflections and on the following literature:

Brindley JE and Walti C. Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. 2009. International review of research in open and distance learning.

Capdeferro N and Romero M. Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences? 2012. International review of research in open and distance learning.

Hrastinski S. A study of synchronous and asynchronous e-learning methods discovered that each support different purposes.2008. Educause Quarterly.



I feel the person sitting alone in the shadows isn’t participating in collaborative learning. However, the person is sitting on the stairs and could move higher up. Stairs in art often symbolize transfer to other higher places. Furthermore, the sunshine is not very far away…and when the sun is shining, that must mean collaboration.


4 thoughts on “Collaborative learning”

  1. what a beautiful post! I feel bad cause last week I have been teaching all day and preparing the lectures at night, so the time to learn was 0. also, as you know my child got sick at the end of the week, so… I feel I sooo behind! right now I am the one in the shadow, hoping I can climb the stairs and go higher 🙂

  2. Hi Christina,
    I agree that time is a crucial step – without experience of e-learning the time seems to pass very quick as you have to learn the method parallel to work with the task for the week ! Asynchronous collaboration is a new way to communicate within learning issues – I think it takes some time to get used to the delay but as you say – it gives you some time to reflect!

  3. Christina, thanks for sharing your interesting reflections. I like your reflection on the picture where you see the person’s development oppotunities. This is what every teacher should do.

  4. Thank you for a very interesting reflection. I agree that estimating the time for learners to perform all tasks in an online course, must be a challenging part of the course design. It must depend very much on the digital literacy and the online experience of the learners.

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