Computer-supported collaborative learning

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  • "Put briefly, CSCL is focused on how collaborative learning supported by technology can enhance peer interaction and work in groups, and how collaboration and technology facilitate sharing and distributing of knowledge and expertise among community members." (Lipponen, 2002)

Developments in ICT offer increasing possibilities for collaborative learning. E.g. technology enhanced learning environments can provide advanced means for the production of knowledge and constructive communication, and interactive and collaborative learning in (and between) classrooms and between teachers and learners.

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is considered as one of the most promising innovations to improve teaching and learning with the help of modern information and communication technology (De Corte, 1996; Lehtinen, Hakkarainen & Lipponen, 1998; Verschaffel, Lowyck, De Corte, Dhert & Vandeput, 1998). Collaborative learning refers to an instructional method whereby students are encouraged or required to work together on problem-solving or learning tasks. In its ideal form the collaboration involves the mutual engagement of learners in a coordinated effort to solve a problem together or to acquire together new knowledge (Lehtinen et al., 1998). As such, collaborative learning is a method that is in line with the new conceptions of learning and opposed to the traditional 'direct transmission' model, in which learners are assumed to be passive, receptive, isolated receivers of knowledge and skills delivered by an external source (De Corte, 1996; Verschaffel et al., 1998).

CSCL is concerned with meaning and the practices of meaning-making in the context of joint activity, and with the ways in which these practices are mediated through designed artifacts (Koschmann, 2002). The concern for a process-oriented account of collaboration underlies most research on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) during the last decade (Dillenbourg, Baker et al., 1996; Stahl, 2002ab; Engeström et al., 2002; Paavola et al., 2004), from individuals to dyades, to finally larger social contexts in which groups interact with other groups to produce learning and create knowledge (Engeström, 2004). The process and practices of meaning-making focuses on the social practices of joint meaning-making, rather than individuals' practices in social settings.

Stahl (2002a) argues that an adequate theoretical foundation for CSCL must explain how individual practices are social without forgetting that the social is grounded in individual activities; concepts of praxis, activity, social reproduction, structuration and enactment begin to address this dialectic. More generally, Stahl's formulation, as detailed in Koschmann's more elaborated definition of CSCL (2002), includes the study of "the ways in which these [meaning-making] practices are mediated through designed artifacts." Here, Koschmann refers mainly to software objects designed to support collaborative learning, precisely CSCL technology, acting as mediational artifacts. (Alain Senteni)

See also: CSCL script, for a more technical/operational discussion of collaboration scripts, i.e. the cornerstones of CSCL.

Short history

“Collaborative learning is the subject of study in a wide variety of disciplines such as developmental psychology (e.g., sociocognitive conflict), social psychology (person perception, motivation, group processes), sociology (status, power and authority), cognitive psychology (how learning occurs, learning outcomes) and sociocultural perspectives (cultural influence on interaction, mediation of learning)” ( Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver). Therefore it is not easy to decide when and where to start CSCL history.

  • Earliest research that led to CSCL started in the 1980s. E.g. the "Toronto School" and its CSILE project (Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter), the ENFL project at Gallaudet that initiated computer-supported collaborative writing.
  • According to the education encylopedia, “in 1983 a workshop on the topic of "joint problem solving and microcomputers" was held at LCHC. The organizers of this workshop, Mike Cole, Naomi Miyake, and Denis Newman, were all to assume prominent roles in the CSCL community as it developed. Six years later, a NATO-sponsored workshop was held in Maratea, Italy.”
  • According to Pierre Dillenbourg (Strijbos, 2004) the first workshop on CSCL was held in 1988.
  • The first full CSCL conference was organized at Indiana University (Bloomington) in 1995 and is held since then every two years. CSCL 1997 already included a large list of "topics of interest": case-based methods of instruction, classroom discourse processes, collaboration and conceptual change, collaborative composition, computers, networks and other relevant technological developments, design and interface issues, distance education, educational groupware, educational implications of Activity Theory, instructional assessment issues, instructional strategies and approaches, K-12 collaborative learning strategies, microworlds, MUDs, and multi-user simulation, problem solving, research in technologically-mediated communication, situated learning and learning in the workplace, socially-oriented theories of learning, theories of collaboration and learning, tools for open-ended or termless learning, tools to support teaching in collaborative settings.
  • In 2006, the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning aim is “to promote a deeper understanding of the nature, theory and practice of the uses of computer-supported collaborative learning. A main focus is on how people learn in the context of collaborative activity and how to design the technological settings for collaboration.”
Influence of CSCW

According to Hoare CSCL has grown out of CSCW. This may not be entirely true, but indeed CSCL is younger than CSCW (mi-1980's) and there are common features, i.e. computer supported communication and activities. According to the same author, the following table indicates the main differences between CSCW and CSCL:

Focuses on communication techniques Focuses on what is being communicated
Used mainly in a business setting Used mainly in an educational setting
Purpose is to facilitate group communication and productivity Purpose is to support students in learning together
Collaborative learning and the zone of proximal development

Collaborative learning can be understood as a kind of learning theory or as an instructional design model as it also is the case of constructivism.

Most Researchers in CSCL always have been interested in both aspects. Many CSCL researchers engage in fundamental research to understand collaborative settings affect learning while others build systems that scaffold certain interaction processes and associated cognitive activities. Frequently, there is a combination of the two, e.g. one may study how a system affects collaboration.

Intelligent tutoring systems

Many of today's CSCL researchers worked in the early 1900's in field called artificial intelligence and education (AI&Ed) that engaged in endevours like building intelligent tutoring systems. Sometimes the focus of research moved from reasoning as the learner to reasoning with the learner and to build systems that support cognitive processes. These systems sometimes were called intelligent learning environments. Under the influence of socio-constructivist research, the next step, and study systems that support cognitive processes in a collaborative setting wasn't too big.

Research topics

Stahl (2002:2) defines four themes important for thinking about CSCL

  1. Collaborative knowledge building
  2. Group and personal perspectives
  3. Mediation by artifacts
  4. Interaction analysis

Below are just 2 examples (many more are needed ....)

Argumentative knowledge construction

According to a Frank Fischer talk at EIAH 2007, argumentative knowledge construction is based on the following working hypothesis:

Construction of arguments leads to interesting cognitive processes (e.g. self-explanation) which in turn may improve construction of arguments. Cognitive processes triggered by this kind of collaborative exchange will improved individual's acquistion of knowledge (both knowledge on argumentation and the subject area).

However, "Two wrongs can not make right". Typically, one can observe erroneous, lacking or heteogeneous application of mental scripts. The working hypothesis of this kind of research is that a computer-supported "learning script" could enhance argumentation quality in discussion and individual knowledge on argumentation, then lead to deeper processing of learning material and finally to better learning.

In other terms collabortive scrips can extend zones of proximal development, e.g. help a student to formulate a right question which otherwise he could not have. Scripts should both change observable behavior and cognitive behavior. Collaboration scripts may lead to an alternative orchestration of argument in discourse, and consequently of cognitive processes.

Therefore central to this kind of CSCL research are collaboration scripts: Action programs that activate or assign roles and activities associated to these roles, that help individuals to understand and to act in specific collaborative situations (in part: Schank and Abelson, 1975).

See computer-supported argumentation for more discussion.

Learning scientific inquiry

Hakkarainen & Sintonen (2002) link CSCL research to a model of scientific inquiry:

  • "Scardamalia and Bereiter (1994) have argued that there is a close relationship between the process of scientific thinking and learning science as well as between the philosophy of science and science education." (Hakkarainen 2002: 26)
  • An analogy between the history of science and the development of scientific thinking in childhood as well as between scientific thinking and children's thinking has been a very important foundation of cognitive research on educational practices. (Hakkarainen 2002: 26)
  • Knowledge-seeking inquiry entails that knowledge is not simply assimilated but constructed through solving problems of explanation and understanding. Through intensive collaboration and peer interaction, resources of the whole learning community may be used to facilitate advancement of inquiry. (Hakkarainen 2002: 27)
  • It is generally believed that children are not capable of participating in these kinds of advanced scientific processes of inquiry, and, therefore, conventional pedagogical practices are not aimed at encouraging them. However, new computersupported learning environments emerging from cognitive research promise to facilitate participation in these higher- level processes of inquiry in education. (Hakkarainen 2002: 29)

Instructional Design

A central element in CSCL design are so-called collaboration scripts (sometimes simply called scripts).

Successful collaborative learning relies on effective interaction of learners. However, when learners are left to their own devices, they rarely engage in asking each other questions, explaining and justifying their opinions, articulating their reasoning, or elaborating and reflecting upon their knowledge. Collaboration scripts aim to support these learning activities by structuring otherwise deficient interaction. In cognitive psychology, the term "script" is used to refer to personal or culturally shared knowledge about everyday situations in the form of generalized procedures (Schank & Abelson, 1977). For instance, the "restaurant script" informs us what to do and to expect when we go to a restaurant, the roles we and other participants play, and the sequence in which all events are supposed to take place. In educational science, collaboration scripts are given activity programs that structure the interaction of collaborative learners (O'Donnell & Dansereau, 1992). Similar to the "restaurant script", collaboration scripts can guide the learners in what to do in the learning task, the roles they play, as well as the sequence of activities to engage in. Since then, this approach of what they called "scripted cooperation" has been adopted by many researchers and educators in the field of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and produced a wide range of innovative yet non-generic script examples. (Kobbe, 2006:27)

See CSCL script for more details


Other resources:

  • CSCL Technologies by Dr. Allan Jeong, Florida State University. This list includes mostly other tools (e.g. LMSs, Portals, collaborative office and drawing tools, etc.).

Incomplete list of CSCL systems

Available and working
Difficult to get, available but maybe not working or no longer maintained, etc.

Unlike in other domains of research in edutech, CSCL programs are usually not distributed. Besides the paradox that people working on collaboration are not interested in commons, it may have to do with the research-orientation of this subfield, i.e. software products may seldom be maintained since resources go into research and publishing ...

Design and research methodology

To design and build CSCL systems, design experiments (design-based research) are predominant.

Otherwise, the whole range of social science research methodology is used, depending on what subject is studied.

There also exist instructional design methods, such as Kirschner six-stage procedure.

Digital divide and instrumentation

When discussing CSCL and Educational technology in general, it is important to keep in mind the extreme disparity between different populations around the world when it comes to access to and capacity to receive benefits from computers and internet technologies resulting from various socio-economic and political factors. This disparity is referred to as the digital divide.

For more see:

Even more critical, engagement with CSCL designs and tools requires a major effort in terms of instrumentation (Lonchamp, 2012), i.e. the necessity to create new utilization schemes for a variety of purposes.

By definition, a CSCL artifact conveys some pedagogical intent, which requires that learners use it more or less as anticipated by its designers. An inherent tension exists between learners who elaborate their own instruments, on the one side, and designers/ teachers who wish to impose their pedagogical visions, on the other side. A first approach to deal with this dilemma is to avoid associating a particular way of using the artifact with the pedagogical intent. A “learner-instrumentalizable system” only provides means for reaching the objectives and lets the community of learners find its own path. Structures emerge over time from situated practice. As discussed in detail below, this orientation is highly demanding for both learners and institutions. In a second approach, a particular usage is prescribed by designers/teachers and more or less enforced. There are different ways of enforcing rules in such “teacher-instrumentalizable systems.” At one extreme, it is done in a non-constraining way, for example with a human tutor who recalls the prescriptions and ensures, as much as possible, a disciplined usage of the system. An already well-established research stream aims at building intelligent agents for playing that role or, at least, for assisting human tutors (Magnisalis et al. 2011). At the other extreme, rules are automatically enforced. But, many users are reluctant to use such systems, and often find inventive ways to circumvent the rules (e.g., use a sentence opener with a contribution of a completely different nature).

(Lonchamp, 2012:231).



Free textbooks


  • De Corte, E. (1996). Instructional Psychology: Overview. In E. De Corte & F.E. Weinert (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Developmental and Instructional Psychology. London, Pergamon.
  • De Corte, E. (2000). Marrying Theory Building and the Improvement of School Practice: a Permanent Challenge for Instructional Psychology. Leaning and Instruction 10: 249-266.
  • de Corte, E.; E. Linn, H. Mandl & L. Verschaffel (1992) (eds.) Computer-Based Learning Environments and Problem Solving, Springer-Verlag, New York, 229-247.
  • De Corte, E.; R. Glaser & H. Mandl (2006) (Eds.), International perspectives on the design of technology supported learning environments (105-128). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • De Corte, Erik; Lieven Verschaffel, Joost Lowyck, Stijn Dhert, Luc Vandeput (2002) Collaborative learning of mathematics: Problem-solving and problem-posing supported by 'Knowledge Forum'. TelE-Learning 2002: 53-59.
  • De Corte, E; L. Verschaffel, N. Entwistle, & J. van Merriënboer (2003) (eds). Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling basic components and dimensions. Amsterdam: Pergamon, Elsevier Science.
  • Engeström, Y, Engeström, R., & Suntio, A. (2002) From paralyzing myths to expansive action: building computer-supported knowledge into the curriculum from below, CSCL 2002 Proceedings, pp.318-325, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Hillsdale, New Jersey, USA
  • Engeström, Y. (2004). "New forms of learning in co-configuration work." Journal of Workplace Learning 16(1/2): 11-21.
  • Erkens, G., Jaspers, J., Prangsma, M., & Kanselaar, G. (2005). Coordination processes in computer supported collaborative writing. Computers in Human Behavior, 21(3), 463--486.
  • Kobbe, Lars (2006). Framework on multiple goal dimensions for computer-supported scripts, Kaleidoscope, D21.2.1 (Final). PDF (dead link) and TeLearn archive (dead link)
  • Magnisalis, I., Demetriadis, S., & Karakostas, A. (2011). Adaptive and intelligent systems for collaborative learning support: A review of the field. IEEE Transaction on Learning Technologies, 4(1), 5–20.
  • Weinberger Armin; Douglas Clark , Gijsbert Erkens , Victor Sampson , Karsten Stegmann , Jeroen Janssen , Jos Jaspers , Gellof Kanselaar , Frank Fischer, Argumentative knowledge construction in CSCL, Proceedings of the 7th international conference on Learning sciences, p.1094-1100, June 27-July 01, 2006, Bloomington, Indiana. [
  • Haake, J., Schwabe, G. & Wessner, N. (Ed.)(2004). CSCL-Kompendium. Lehr- und Handbuch zum computerunterstützen kooperativen Lernen. München: Oldenbourg.
  • Hakkarainen, K. & Sintonen, M. (2002) The Interrogative Model of Inquiry and Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Science & Education 11: 25.
  • Hinze-Hoare (2006), Vita, A Review of Papers that have a bearing on An Analysis of User Interactions in A Collaborative On-line Laboratory. School of Electronics and Computer Science Southampton University, PDF
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  • Koschmann, T. (2002) Dewey's Contribution to the Foundations of CSCL Research, CSCL 2002 Proceedings, pp.17-23, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Hillsdale, New Jersey, USA
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  • Lehtinen Erno (2003). Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: An Approach To Powerful Learning Environment in E. De Corte, L. Verschaffel, N. Entwistle & J. Van Merriëboer (Eds.). Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling basic components and dimensions. Amsterdam: Pergamon, Elsevier Science. [ PDF Preprint
  • Lehtinen, Hakkarainen & Lipponen (1998). ???? [this is probably the 1999 article below ...]
  • Lehtinen, E., Hakkarainen, K., Lipponen, L., Rahikainen1), M., & Muukkonen, H. (1999). Computer supported collaborative learning: A review. The J.H.G.I. Giesbers Reports on Education, Number 10. Department of Educational Sciences. University on Nijmegen. HTML
  • Lonchamp, J. (2012). An instrumental perspective on CSCL systems. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(2), 211-237. Abstract, PDF (Access restricted)
  • O'Donnell, A. M., & Dansereau, D. F. (1992). Scripted cooperation in student dyads: A method for analyzing and enhancing academic learning and performance. In R. Hertz-Lazarowitz & N. Miller (Eds.), Interaction in cooperative groups: The theoretical anatomy of group learning. (pp. 120-141). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
  • Paavola, S., Lipponen, L., & Hakkarainen, K. (2004) Epistemological Foundations for CSCL: A Comparison of Three Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities, CSCL 2002 Proceedings, pp.24-33, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Hillsdale, New Jersey, USA
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  • Strijbos, Jan-Willem, Paul A. Kirschner , Rob L. Martens, What we know about CSCL: ...and what we do not (but need to) know about CSCL, in Strijbos, J.W., P.A. Kirschner, R.L. Martens and P.Dillenbourg, What we know about CSCL and implementing it in higher education, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Norwell, MA, 2004
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  • Van der Meijden, Henny; Robert Jan Simons and Frank de Jong, Final Report, Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Networks In Primary And Secondary Education, Project 2017, University Of Nijmegen, WORD (get the full report).
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  • Wecker, C., Stegmann, K., Bernstein, F., Huber, M. J., Kalus, G., Rathmayer, S., ... & Fischer, F. (2009, June). Sustainable script and scaffold development for collaboration on varying web content: the S-COL technological approach. In Proceedings of the 9th international conference on Computer supported collaborative learning-Volume 1 (pp. 512-516). International Society of the Learning Sciences.
To sort out
  • Verburgh, An and Martin Mulder, PDF