Collaborative learning

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1 Definitions

2 What is collaborative Learning ?

"However one also might argue that "collaborative learning" is only a field of research and not really a theory or a pedagogical method. Collaborative learning ... "describes a situation in which particular forms of interaction among people are expected to occur, which would trigger learning mechanisms, but there is no guarantee that the expected interactions will actually occur" (Dillenbourg (1999:5):

  • Collaborative learning is not one single mechanism: if one talks about "learning from collaboration", one should also talk about "learning from being alone". Individual cognitive systems do not learn because they are individual, but because they perform some activities (reading, building, predicting, ...) which trigger some learning mechanisms (induction, deduction, compilation,...). Similarly, peers do not learn because they are two, but because they perform some activities which trigger specific learning mechanisms. This includes the activities/mechanisms performed individually, since individual cognition is not suppressed in peer interaction. But, in addition, the interaction among subjects generates extra activities (explanation, disagreement, mutual regulation, ...) which trigger extra cognitive mechanisms (knowledge elicitation, internalisation, reduced cognitive load, ...). The field of collaborative learning is precisely about these activities and mechanisms. (Dillenbourg (1999:5)

Collaborative learning is not a method because of the low predictability of specific types of interactions. Basically, collaborative learning takes the form of instructions to subjects (e.g. "You have to work together"), a physical setting (e.g. "Team mates work on the same table") and other institutional constraints (e.g. "Each group member will receive the mark given to the group project"). Hence, the 'collaborative' situation is a kind of social contract, either between the peers or between the peers and the teacher (then it is a didactic contract). This contract specifies conditions under which some types of interactions may occur, there is no guarantee they will occur. For instance, the 'collaboration' contract implicitly implies that both learner contribute to the solution, but this is often not the case. Conversely, reciprocal tutoring (Palincsar and Brown, 1984) could be called 'a method', because subjects follow a scenario in which they have to perform particular types of interaction at particular times. (Dillenbourg (1999:5)

3 A Short history

Collaborative learning has several roots [ToDo: Vygotsky, social cognition, etc.]

Interest for collaborative learning sharply raised in the early nineties and soon became dominant in advanced educational technology research. At the same time other important focal points emerged, like interest for learning that occurs in informal settings (situated cognition and situated learning), communities of learning, etc. This is nicely illustrated in Pea (1995: 285):

More recent views of educational communication in terms of conceptual learning conversations (Pea, 1992, 1993), cooperative learning, cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newmann, 1989), communities of learning, (Brown & Campione, in press), knowledge-building communities (Scardamalia & Bereiter, in press), and learning as legitimate peripheral participation (Lave and Wenger, 1991) implicitly recognize the need for foregrounding a ritualistic view of communication. When they invoke the notion of learners participating in inquiries at the frontiers of knowledge in a filed an with mature communities of practitioners in a discipline, they endorse a view of communication for learning the I describe as transformative.

4 References

  • Henri, France et. Karin Lundgren-Cayrol, (1998), Apprentissage collaboratif et nouvelles technologies, Montréal, LICEF, Télé-université (PDF)
  • Henri, F. et K. Lundgren-Cayrol (2001). Apprentissage collaboratif à distance. Pour comprendre et concevoir des environnements d'apprentissage virtuels, Sainte-Foy, Presses de l'Université du Québec. (This is the book version of above, rewritten).
  • Pea, Roy, D. Seeing What We Build Together: Distributed Multimedia Learning Environments for Transformative Communications, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1993-1994, Vol. 3, No. 3, Pages 285-299, (doi:10.1207/s15327809jls0303_4)