Collaborative learning

Meaningful (deep) learning, as opposed to rote (surface) learning, is characterized by the learner’s ability to integrate the new information with the existing knowledge, and construct new concept which could be transferred to other contexts. On the other hand, rote learning focuses mainly on the retrieval of relevant knowledge from the long-term memory (Gonzalez et al., 2008; Mayer, 2002). Four important aspects related to meaningful learning have been identified: motivational, knowledge construction, contextual, and collaborative, and they are interconnected in a way that contextual and collaborative learning kindle students’ motivation (Weurlander et al., 2009). There are obvious social elements of learning, where knowledge is acquired by belonging to certain communities of practice and doing some activities (Illeris, 2009). Here, group members attain knowledge and cooperative skills by collaborative social exchange between them. Evidently, collaborative, cooperative, or social learning is intimately connected to experiential learning, which is a process that occurs in a cycle of experience, reflection, abstracting, and testing the new concepts (Dornan, 2011). However, a newly formed group of different professions proceed through four stages of development, viz. dependency and inclusion; counterdependency, fighting, and conflict; trust and structure; and work and productivity (Wheelan, 2010). Conflicting attitudes to the same issue may be a natural outcome of the different values assumed by several parties involved (Barr, 2005). The conflict is found to be, if appropriately dealt with, crucial for teams to become effective and productive (Wheelan, 2010).

Higher Education (HE) is being encountered at many fronts with a more diverse student profile, globalization, flexibility in modes of delivery and the impact of technological advances, marketization of HE, funding, and accountability. Therefore, education in the digital era we are living in should benefit from the available tools, which can make teaching and learning as tasks appealing to all concerned bodies in the process including students, teachers, administration, institutions, government, and society. Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment is challenging, but it worth undertaking since the expected pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning are worthwhile, including development of critical thinking skills, co-creation of knowledge and meaning, reflection, and transformative learning (Brindley and Walti, 2009).

Reflecting on the educational atmosphere in my home country, making use of learning communities is fundamental for transforming our home university to a learning organization (D’Andrea and Gosling, 2005). To help colleagues develop the sense of collaboration and nurture it, instead of the prevailing competition, I think of getting them acquainted with a cooperative learning milieu in a friendly, kind of informal setting like Open Networked Learning (ONL) community.

GONZALEZ, H. L., PALENCIA, A. P., UMANA, L. A., GALINDO, L. & VILLAFRADE, M. L. 2008. Mediated learning experience and concept maps: a pedagogical tool for achieving meaningful learning in medical physiology students. Advances in Physiology Education, 32, 312-6.

MAYER, R. E. 2002. Rote Versus Meaningful Learning. Theory Into Practice, 41, 226-232.

WEURLANDER, M., MASIELLO, I., SODERBERG, M. & WERNERSON, A. 2009. Meaningful learning: students’ perceptions of a new form of case seminar in pathology. Med Teach, 31, e248-53.

ILLERIS, K. 2009. Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists … in their own words, New York, Routledge.

DORNAN, T. 2011. Medical education: theory and practice, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

WHEELAN, S. A. 2010. Creating effective teams: a guide for members and leaders, Thousand Oakes, Calif., SAGE.

BARR, H. 2005. Effective interprofessional education: argument, assumption and evidence, Oxford, Blackwell.

BRINDLEY, J., BLASCHKE, L. M., & WALTI, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

D’ANDREA, V.-M. & GOSLING, D. 2005. Improving teaching and learning in higher education : a whole institution approach, Maidenhead, UK, Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.


4 thoughts on “Collaborative learning

  1. Thank you Mohammed for an very interesting post, applied to your own everyday environment, the medical field. The theory of how to achieve deep or surface learning is indeed a very strong discourse in HE and overall I do think there’s much truth in it. I also see now how the gospel of collaborative learning is promoted as the glorious way to facilitate deep learning. It absolutely can be in many cases, but let’s not forget that different individuals prefer different learning styles. How will you face that challenge – in an age of technology?


  2. Thanks Ulrika,
    Actually building such a collaboration online should be carefully thought of since it’s not like face-to-face occasions. That can be achieved by instigating appropriate communicative practice. I will touch upon that in my coming blog, so please keep an eye on.


  3. Very interesting post Mohammed. I think that collaborative learning is a very important aspect of education per se, and when developing online courses collaborative work should therefore be included. Like you say, creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment is challenging, but this is difficult also in a traditional classroom course. Perhaps the main difficulty, whether in a traditional or an online course, is finding the right type of task or assignment to give to student in order to initiate the collaboration.


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