Strategies for collaborative learning

Collaborative learning refers to “learning activities expressly designed for and carried out through pairs or small interactive groups.”

Smith B. L., and MacGregor J. T. in their article What is Collaborative Learning? said that “collaborative learning” is an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually, students are working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product. Collaborative learning activities vary widely, but most center on students’ exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it.

Many learning activities are collaborative in nature.   Some activities are intentionally designed to engage students collaboratively in meaningful learning to accomplish desired educational outcomes.   Collaborative learning can be a very creative process, while also building team skills and appreciation for the talents individual students bring to the activity. 


Some collaborative learning activities are:

  • Case Method
  • Coached Problem Solving
  • G+ Hangouts
  • Guided Discovery Problems
  • Online Forum Discussion
  • Peer Assessment
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Role-Playing
  • Send-A-Problem
  • Team-Based Problem Solving
  • Think-Pair-Share


To make collaboration learning successful, teachers must prepare for this process. Miriam Clifford submit some tips and strategies for collaborative learning:

1.      Establish group goals.

-          This keeps the group on task and establishes an unambiguous purpose. Before beginning an assignment, it is best to define goals and objectives to save time.

2.      Keep groups midsized.

-          Small groups of 3 or less lack enough diversity and may not allow divergent thinking to occur. Groups that are too large create “freeloading” where not all members participate. A moderate size group of 4-5 is ideal.

3.      Establish flexible group norms.

- Collaborative learning is influenced by the quality of interactions. Interactivity and negotiation are important in group learning. If you notice a deviant norm, you can do two things:  rotate group members or assist in using outside information to develop a new norm.  It is best to have flexible norms. Norms should change with situations so that groups do not become rigid and intolerant or develop sub-groups.

4.      Build trust and promote open communication.

- Successful interpersonal communication must exist in teams. Building trust is essential. Deal with emotional issues that arise immediately and any interpersonal problems before moving on. Assignments should encourage team members to explain concepts thoroughly to each other. Studies found that students who provide and receive intricate explanations gain most from collaborative learning. Open communication is key.

5.      For larger tasks, create group roles.

- Decomposing a difficult task into parts to saves time. You can then assign different roles. The students might have turns to choose their own role and alternate roles by sections of the assignment or classes.

6.      Create a pre-test and post-test.

-          A good way to ensure the group learns together would be to engage in a pre and post-test. In fact, many researchers use this method to see if groups are learning. An assessment gives the team a goal to work towards and ensures learning is a priority. It also allows instructors to gauge the effectiveness of the group.

7.      Consider the learning process itself as part of assessment.

-          Experts have argued that the social and psychological effect on self-esteem and personal development are just as important as the learning itself.

8.      Consider using different strategies, like the Jigsaw technique.

-          This type of collaboration allows students to become “experts” in their assigned topic. Students then return to their primary group to educate others.

9.      Allow groups to reduce anxiety.

-          Allow groups to use some stress-reducing strategies as long as they stay on task.

10.  Establish group interactions.

- The quality of discussions is a predictor of the achievement of the group.  Instructors should provide a model of how a successful group functions.  Shared leadership is best.  Students should work together on the task and maintenance functions of a group. Roles are important in group development. Task functions include:

·         Initiating Discussions

·         Clarifying points

·         Summarizing

·         Challenging assumptions/devil’s advocate

·         Providing or researching information

·         Reaching a consensus.

11.  Use a real world problems.

-          real world problems can be used to facilitate project-based learning and often have the right scope for collaborative learning.

12.  Focus on enhancing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

-          Design assignments that allow space for varied interpretations.  Different types of problems might focus on categorizing, planning, taking multiple perspectives, or forming solutions. Try to use a step-by step procedure for problem solving. Problem-solving procedure could be:

•                        Identify the objective

•                        Set criteria or goals

•                        Gather data

•                        Generate options or courses of action

•                        Evaluate the options using data and objectives

•                        Reach a decision

•                        Implement the decision.


13.  Keep in mind the diversity of groups.

-          Mixed groups that include a range of talents, backgrounds, cultures, learning styles, ideas, and experiences are best. Studies have found that mixed aptitude groups tend to learn more from each other and increase achievement of low performers. Rotate groups so students have a chance to learn from others.


14.  Groups with an equal number of boys and girls are best.

-          Equally balanced gender groups were found to be most effective.  You may also want to specifically discuss or establish gender equality as a norm. 


15.  Diminished responsibility as students begin to understand concepts.

-          Allow groups to grow in responsibility as times goes on.  In your classroom, this may mean allowing teams to develop their own topics or products as time goes on.  After all, increased responsibility over learning is a goal in collaborative learning.


16.  Include different types of learning scenarios.

- Collaborative learning that focuses on rich contexts and challenging questions produces higher order reasoning.  Assignments can include study teams, debates, writing projects, problem solving, collaborative writing ant others.


17.  Technology makes collaborative learning easier.

-          Collaboration had the same results via technology as in person, increased learning opportunities. Be aware that some research suggests that more exchanges related to planning rather than challenging viewpoints occurred more frequently through online interactions. This may be because the research used students that did not know one another. If this is your scenario, you may want to start by having students get to know each other’s backgrounds and ideas beforehand on a blog or chat-board.


18.  Individual time.

-          You may allow some individual time to write notes before the groups begin.  This may be a great way to assess an individual grade.


19.  Be wary of “group think”.

-          While collaborative learning is a great tool, it is always important to consider a balanced approach.


20.  Value diversity.

-          Students need to respect and appreciate each other’s viewpoints for it to work. Create a classroom environment that encourages independent thinking.

The jigsaw strategy is said to improve social interactions in learning and support diversity. The workplace is often like a jigsaw. It involves separating an assignment into subtasks, where individuals research their assigned area.  Students with the same topic from different groups might meet together to discuss ideas between groups.

Last modified: Saturday, 6 May 2017, 10:08 AM