Collaborative Learning

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Collaborative learning is the process of engaging learners in an active experience that emphasises the importance of peer interaction to reach a common goal. It is an approach grounded in constructivist theory (Piaget, 1972; Dewey, 1993; Bruner, 1990): learners engage with and find solutions through exploration of knowledge and perspectives. In the case of collaborative learning, we move towards a social-constructivist approach, placing emphasis on social participation with value placed on the experiences and backgrounds of learners (Vygotsky, 1978).

Collaborative learning forms a subset of active learning, requiring learners to work together in the pursuit of gaining knowledge, solving problems, or creating something new. Collaboration in this form provides an opportunity for students to engage in purposeful dialogue, creating mutual understanding and deep critical reflections. Moving beyond traditional methods, it places students at the centre of the experience and provides opportunities for learning to occur through active engagement - therefore promoting meaningful and lasting learning (Barkley, Major, & Cross, 2014).

Collaborative learning can be peer-to-peer or small-group-based. By collaborating to solve problems, students creatively and critically apply theoretical knowledge, articulate and comprehend ideas through different perspectives, and synthesise information to build consensus. Collaborating in this way enables the development of both subject-specific and wider transferable skills.

Subject-Specific Transferable Skills
Refining comprehension through shared discourse Project management skills
Giving and receiving feedback Challenging assumptions
Developing new approaches and understanding Communication and articulation
Understanding perspectives Delegation of tasks


Barkley, E., Major, C., & Cross, K. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. New York: Heath and Company.

Morrison, D. (2014, August 14). How to make group work collaborative in online courses: four strategies. Retrieved from Online Learning Insights:

Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.

Roberts, T. (2007). Seven Problems of Online Group Learning (and Their Solutions). Educational Technology & Society, 257-268.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zygrouris-Coe, V. (2012). Collaborative Learning in an Online Teacher Education Course: Lessons Learned. International Conference on Information, Communication Technologies in Education (pp. 332-342). Rhodes, Greece: