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Curtin University

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is an educational approach that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. It is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act. Learning occurs though active engagement among peers, either face-to-face or online.

The main characteristics of collaborative learning are: a common task or activity; small group learning, co-operative behaviour; interdependence; and individual responsibility and accountability (Lejeune, 1999).
Collaborative learning is similar to, but not the same as, cooperative learning. In cooperative learning the task is divided vertically (i.e., members work more or less concurrently on different aspects of a project), whereas in collaborative learning the task is divided horizontally (i.e., members work together more or less sequentially on different aspects of a project) (Dillenbourg, 1999).

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Benefits of collaborative learning

Collaborative learning activities create opportunities for students to:

  • Engage in subject specific discussions with peers
  • Learn how to work cooperatively and support each other
  • Develop effective teamwork and communication (including interpersonal and cross cultural awareness) skills
  • Assimilate multiple views to deepen knowledge and promote critical thinking
  • Foster individual accountability to the team
  • Develop independent learning strategies
  • Structure out-of-class learning
  • Mitigate learner isolation

Online collaboration brings additional benefits of flexibility, managing student participation and behaviour, trackability and student autonomy.

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