Collaborative Learning

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By Matt Murphy

Individual versus Team Learning

When you think about traditional learning and training models, there is very little opportunity for collaboration. We take tests and exams where we are graded as individuals. Yet, in the real world, we work in teams and rely on a group effort to attain a common goal or outcome. Could this be the reason that so many graduates from programs are ill-equipped to function within a team?

What you know is only a piece of the knowledge and experience that’s contributing to the goal of the team. This is why collaborative learning, as an educational approach to teaching and learning, is critical. Simple examples involve a group of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Typically, this is done in small groups where students can both share their strengths and develop their weaker skills, while developing interpersonal skills.

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

What are the advantages of collaborative learning? There are many. But the most beneficial are:

  • Finer critical thinking skills
  • Better student/faculty engagement
  • Higher student retention
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Improved attitude and satisfaction 
  • Development of better oral communication skills

Collective Thinking

Collaborative learning teams attain higher-level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually. Why is this so?

Groups tend to learn through discussion, clarification of ideas, and the evaluation of others’ ideas. Like a good conversation, that exchange of information is retained in long-term memory. There is plenty of research that suggests that students who worked collaboratively on math computational problems earned significantly higher scores than those who worked alone. Plus, students who demonstrated lower levels of achievement improved when working in diverse groups.

Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher-level thinking and preserve information longer than do students working individually.

Here are the general rules for collaboration:

  • Establish goals
  • Establish norms
  • Build trust

Effective collaborative learning needs to have defined goals and objectives, as well as individual accountability. Interactivity and negotiation skills are important to drive quality interactions. But most important is developing successful interpersonal communication by building trust. Allowing each team member a fair and equal opportunity to explain concepts and express their views without judgement is critical. Otherwise, dominant members will suppress the views of others.

Is it time to ensure that you have a functioning collaborative team? Whether in a collaborative learning environment or in a fully functioning work environment, I think we can all agree that the old adage of “two heads are better than one” will drive better and more successful outcomes.


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