What is Collaborative Learning?

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The definition of collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is the educational approach of using groups to enhance learning through working together. Groups of two or more learners work together to solve problems, complete tasks, or learn new concepts.

This approach actively engages learners to process and synthesize information and concepts, rather than using rote memorization of facts and figures.

Learners work with each other on projects, where they must collaborate as a group to understand the concepts being presented to them.

Through defending their positions, reframing ideas, listening to other viewpoints and articulating their points, learners will gain a more complete understanding as a group than they could as individuals.

The benefits of collaborative learning

1. Learning becomes a truly active process.

The learner must organize their thoughts, present a cohesive argument to demonstrate their point, defend that point to their peers, and convince others that their argument is correct.

2. Learners benefit from hearing diverse viewpoints.

Studies show that when a person is exposed to diverse viewpoints, especially from people with varied backgrounds, they learn more. 

3. The learner must quickly synthesize responses and, if they find that their argument is lacking, adjust their ideas on the fly.

Students learn how to think critically and quickly, while intaking new information and adjusting their own viewpoint as new ideas are introduced.

4. The learner will also listen to others talking through their ideas, offering their thoughts for or against their peers’ arguments.

This dynamic approach means that learners gain a fuller understanding of the topic, as they have to consider it from all angles.

5. Students learn to speak well in front of an audience of their peers, to listen actively, to challenge ideas and build a framework of ideas in conjunction with others.

This increased social ease will help students in all aspects of life, from job interviews to first dates.

6. Collaborative learning teaches cooperation.

When given a specific goal, learners are more likely to engage in thoughtful discussion with each other, improving both their understanding of the subject and their esteem for each other.

7. Studies have shown that utilizing collaborative learning in the classroom may lead to increased student involvement and better retention of material.

The process of collaborative learning allows participants to achieve higher levels of thought and the information is retained much longer than when learned in a non-collaborative setting.

Examples of collaborative learning

  • Debating ideas

In three person groups, one student is pro, one student is anti and one is the moderator. The moderator is neutral, and assigns victory to the debater who was the most convincing. Afterwards, debrief by asking the groups to summarize their discussions, noting what was learned during the exercise.

  • Solving problems

Use the ‘desert island scenario’ to introduce problem solving. Groups of students are told they are marooned on a desert island and can have a set number of items. The group as a whole must agree on what items to bring. Afterwards, the groups present their ideas to the class and justify why they chose them.

  • Inventing products

Play ‘dragon’s den’ with learners. Have groups invent a product and then must, as a team, pitch it to the class as a whole.

To provide extra structure, parameters can be set as to what problem this product will solve, how much it can cost, or what materials it can be made out of.

  • Performing tasks

Group problem solving is a great task to inspire collaborative learning. Assign different problems to groups to examine and come up with solutions to.

Have the learners give a short presentation at the end of the session, and ask other groups to share their thoughts, questions and opinions on each presentation.

  • Explaining concepts to other students

In pairs, ask students to choose a concept from a pre-prepared list. Each student will then teach the concept to their partner. Success is measured by how well each student understands the concept taught to them by their partner.

Good examples of collaborative learning activities will have clear instructions, a set goal, mid-sized groups of three to five learners and flexible rules, so that groups can experiment within themselves and work with open communication.

If you want to quantify how much is learned, create a pretest and post-test to measure how much is learned during the collaborative learning activities.

Working together, experiencing a variety of diverse points of view, learners can improve their educational outcomes by using this learning technique.