About collaborative online learning and instruction

In a collaborative learning environment students are active in their process of knowledge acquisition, as they participate in discussions, search for information and exchange opinions with their peers (Brindley, Blaschke & Walti, 2009). Thus the knowledge is cocreated and shared among peers and not owned by one particular student after obtaining it from the instructor.

According to Brindley et al.(2009) some benefits with collaborative learning is development of critical thinking skills, co-creation of knowledge and meaning, reflection and transformative learning. To promote higher-order thinking it is the instructional strategy, not the technology, that influences the quality of online learning, according to Anderson (2008). Hence; online learning must create challenging activities, that enable learners to link new information to old, acquire meaningful knowledge and use their metacognitive abilities.

Once when I experienced that I and my fellow-students grew from collaborative online learning and acquired transformative knowledge was, when I as a student studied Public Health Sciences. I and my fellow students applied problem-based learning (PBL) in the courses and I remembered the triggering scenarios, that made me and group members approaching the scenarios with great skepticism and suspicion. I remember us thinking looking at the scenarios: “Can this really be true?” PBL was a new and different way for us to study at and it made us active, questioning and analyzing. This pedagogy made us consciously applying tactics and strategies to uncover meaning. To study collaboratively in our PBL-group challenged our beliefs and made us grow from the learning experience.

Brindley et al.(2009) recommend following instructional strategies to improve the quality of group collaboration and to increase the likelihood of student participation:
1) Facilitate learner readiness for group work. Scaffolding is important!
2) Establish a healthy balance between structure and learner autonomy. Clearity and flexibility of task!
3) Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community. Informality, familiarity, honesty, openness, heart, passion, dialogue, rapport, empathy, trust, authenticity, disclosure, humour, and diverse opinions!
4) Monitor group activities actively and closely. Continuous feedback!
5) Make the group task relevant for the learner. Authentic, realworld environments and relevant content provide motivation for collaborative learning.
6) Choose tasks that are best performed by a group. Tasks that benefit from teamwork!
7) Provide sufficient time. Most importantly, time is required for the discussion and exchange of ideas that are crucial to deeper learning!

Capdeferro and Romero (2012) confirm most of the above findings by Brindley et al. (2009). In their study the students´ main source of frustration was, the team members´ commitment imbalance, and therefore, they emphasize that the online activities should be designed with the aim of guaranteeing a certain level of positive interdependence and individual accountability (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012).

And finally: Learning is contagious (Dron & Anderson, 2014).

References:
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). Accessed 5 November 2016.

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. Accessed 5 November 2016.

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press. Accessed 5 November 2016.

Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Athabasca University Press. Accessed 5 November 2016.

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