Collaborative learning

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  • In Education and Instruction, Collaborative Learning occurs when two or more students actively contribute to the attainment of a mutual learning goal and try to share the effort required to reach this goal, either face-to- face or supported by a computer [1]).

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)

Aims of Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning aims to facilitate that procedure by increasing our ability to collectively process novel information [2].

Impact of Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning results in group members trying to successfully perform a certain learning task or solve a specific problem together, in the long run, as an instructional method, it is very important that all members of the group develop effective experience working together (i.e., domain-generalised group knowledge,[3] that facilitates every member in acquiring domain-specific knowledge from this combined effort. The use of collaborative learning has implications for extraneous cognitive load.

How does Collaborative Learning Work?

Collaborative Learning makes use of the borrowing and reorganizing principle and is one of the justifications for hypothesizing that collaboration can be effective for learning [1]. During collaborative learning, some information comes from collaborators rather than other sources and that information is likely to become available exactly when it is needed resulting in a decreased load and increased learning [4].

Collective Working Memory

By having Multiple working memories working together on the same task, the effective capacity of the multiple working memories may be increased due to a collective working memory effect [5]. Collaborative learning aims to facilitate that procedure by increasing our ability to collectively process novel information [6].

A Short history

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Collaborative learning has several roots

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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.


  • 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)
  1. Teasley, S. D., & Roschelle, J. (1993). Constructing a joint problem space: The computer as a tool for sharing knowledge. In S. P. Lajoie (Ed.), Computers as cognitive tools: Technology in education (pp. 229–258). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc..
  2. Kirschner, F., Paas, F., & Kirschner, P. A. (2009a). A cognitive load approach to collaborative learning: United brains for complex tasks. Educational Psychology Review, 21, 31–42.
  3. Kalyuga, S. (2013). Enhancing transfer by learning generalized domain knowledge structures. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(4), 1477–1493.
  4. Järvelä, S., Kirschner, P. A., Panadero, E., Malmberg, J., Phielix, C., Jaspers, J., Koivuniemi, M., & Järvenoja, H. (2015). Enhancing socially shared regulation in collaborative learning groups - Designing for CSCL Intern. J. Comput.-Support. Collab. Learn 231 regulation tools. Educational Technology Research & Development, 63, 125–142.
  5. Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2002). Collaborative ways of knowing: Issues in facilitation. In G. Stahl (Ed.), Computer Support for Collaborative Learning (CSCL ’01) (pp. 199–208). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
  6. Suthers, D. D. (2006). Technology affordances for intersubjective meaning making: A research agenda for CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1, 315–337. https://doi. org/10.1007/s11412-006-9660-y.