Five Tips To Impact Online Collaborative Learning
Imagine participating in an online learning program where you are part of a team that feels engaged, connected, and supported by one another despite team members residing in locations throughout the U.S. or even globally. The team members trust each other, make decisions as a team, and provide diverse perspectives, all while online. In fact, studies have shown that a positive correlation exists between collaborative learning and student achievement (Scager et al., 2016).
Recently, online practices were pressure tested in higher education and professional environments because of the pandemic. Two years of using online methods as a necessity have shown administrators and business leaders that a full-time online learning approach is possible. However, to achieve a successful online collaborative environment, you must take steps to encourage and build collaboration among students.
1. Let’s Start With Technology
Technology tools have an important impact on collaborative learning and knowledge construction (Engellant, 2014; Bai et al., 2018). Online collaboration tools must allow for both synchronous and asynchronous communication (Engellant, 2014). A notable example of this is the use of social media. A recent study found students who used social media were more creative, dynamic, and research-oriented (Ansari and Khan, 2020).
A popular collaborative social media tool that you can implement with online students is Padlet. This is a web-based app where teachers can encourage knowledge sharing on a virtual wall and students can post and comment while bringing their own perspectives. This tool gives students the ability to share information and work together through a problem while working remotely. Social media tools, used properly, have a statistically significant positive relationship with peers interacting, which means a higher degree of interaction with peers and colleagues (Ansari and Khan, 2020).
2. Include A Challenging Group Task
Just as having the appropriate technology is important, so is having a challenging group task. Another element that makes collaborative online learning a success is including a challenging task that team members can accomplish together. This provides an element where the group can focus their attention.
For it to be effective, it needs to be challenging so the group will recognize that they will need to work together to achieve its completion. The group task needs to have substance and difficulty as well as relevance (Scager et al., 2016). Importantly, it has to be a project that the team cannot accomplish independently. This creates a healthy interdependence within the online group and actually improves collaboration within the team (Scager et al., 2016).
Also, having this type of task will motivate the collaborative group to schedule meetings, set deadlines, and communicate by email, all for the purpose of completing the project successfully and on time. Examples of a challenging group task could be creating an online eLearning course, writing a group paper, or giving a group presentation. All of these would be effective as challenging group tasks for an online collaborative group.
3. Provide Scaffolding To Help Support Your Students’ Learning
Without sufficient or appropriate guidance and support, challenges may arise that can hinder learning in online collaborative learning environments (Xun et al., 2000). For example, some students may have difficulty understanding the instructional goals (Song et al., 2004). Users who may be new to online collaborative learning may feel anxious when utilizing new technologies and online applications. Other students may feel overwhelmed by off-topic or disorganized discussion posts.
Thus, in order to make online collaborative learning successful, it is necessary to provide students with scaffolding or support as they develop new skills (Xun et al., 2000). Scaffolding helps reduce ambiguity for learners and can appear in a variety of forms including tools, strategies, guidelines, questions, prompts, and feedback (Simons and Klein, 2007). For example, in an online collaborative learning environment, you can scaffold your students’ learning by monitoring your students’ discussion forums to guide off-topic conversations in the right direction, answer clarifying questions, question students on their understanding, and provide feedback on their progress.
4. Place A High-Ability Student In Each Group If Possible
In addition to scaffolding, having a higher-ability student in the groups is essential. Whether in an online class at a university or within an online team at a company, every online collaborative group will be well served by having a high-ability student or individual within the group. This helps to improve group performance and increases the potential of the group to succeed.
When paired with a more competent individual, a less competent person can perform at a higher level to complete projects they would not be able to accomplish working independently (Webb, 2013). In addition to helping to increase the potential within a group, high-ability students and coworkers can serve to help educate less able individuals through presenting information. This helps to clarify the information, fill any knowledge gaps, or address any misunderstandings related to an assignment (Webb, 2013). Higher ability students can help online collaborative groups in the following ways: providing guidance for task analysis, helping to provide instructional theories, or providing guidance for a paper or a report.
5. Provide Timely And Continuous Feedback To Your Students
Feedback is information provided by an educator or employer about a student’s performance or understanding (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). The main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between a student’s current understanding and the desired performance goal (Kopp et al., 2012).
For feedback to be effective and influence collaborative learning, it must be offered in a timely manner, it must be provided continuously, and it should focus on the process and not solely on the product (Coll et al., 2014). Therefore, in an online collaborative learning environment, you can offer timely feedback so that students receive guidance and have time to implement that guidance in their learning. You can also offer feedback focused on the process to help students continuously develop strategies for meeting their desired goals.
Technology. Challenges. Scaffolding. Competence. Feedback. You are only five steps away from creating the collaborative environment that will propel your online students to success. Make sure to record your actions and the steps taken, and continuously seek feedback from your students for modifications along the way. Your students will thank you for enhancing their learning, teaching them the power of collaboration, and giving them the opportunity to make new friends throughout the world.
Ansari, J. A. N., and Khan, N. A. 2020. “Exploring the role of social media in collaborative learning the new domain of learning.” Smart Learning Environments 7(1):1–16.
Bai, J., Li, H., and Chen, J. 2018. “Research on constructivism-based collaborative learning mode.” Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference on Economics and Management, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences (EMEHSS 2018): 431–434.
Coll, C., Rochera, M. J., and De Gispert, I. 2014. “Supporting online collaborative learning in small groups: Teacher feedback on learning content, academic task and social participation.” Computers & Education 75: 53–64.
Engellant, K. A. 2014. “A quantitative study with online collaborative learning in a computer literacy course.” PhD diss., University of Montana.
Hattie, J., and Timperley, H. 2007. “The power of feedback.” Review of educational research 77 (1): 81–112.
Kopp, B., Matteucci, M. C., and Tomasetto, C. 2012. “E-tutorial support for collaborative online learning: An explorative study on experienced and inexperienced e-tutors.” Computers & Education 58 (1): 12–20.
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Simons, K. D., and Klein, J. D. 2007. “The impact of scaffolding and student achievement levels in a problem-based learning environment.” Instructional Science 35(1): 41–72.
Song, L., Singleton, E. S., Hill, J. R., and Koh, M. H. 2004. “Improving online learning: Student perceptions of useful and challenging characteristics.” The Internet and Higher Education 7 (1): 59–70.
Webb, N. M. 2013. Information processing approaches to collaborative learning. London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203837290.ch1
Xun Ge, Kelly Ann Yamashiro, and Jack Lee. 2000. “Pre-class Planning to Scaffold Students for Online Collaborative Learning Activities.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society 3 (3): 159–168.