Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching, employee training and learning involving groups of learners working together on different problems or tasks. It creates an environment where learners are challenged both socially and emotionally while listening to different perspectives and defending their ideas. This approach allows learners to create their own unique conceptual framework and be able to communicate with their peers, exchange diverse beliefs, and question other conceptual frameworks. One of the main differences with traditional direct transfer of knowledge is that instruction shifts from an instructor-centred to a more learner-centred paradigm where peer interaction and evaluation are key.
Collaborative classrooms, whether traditional or online, promote the approach of lecturing alongside learner interaction and active work with the lecture material. The practitioners of this approach apply it not just in traditional education settings, but also at committee meetings, workplace meetings, with other community groups, as well as as a way of living, and dealing with other people. In this blog, we’ll look closer into the topic of collaborative learning and discuss how it’s supported within Moodle Workplace.
Collaborative Learning vs. Cooperative Learning
Although collaborative and cooperative learning seem close to each other, there are some fundamental differences between the dynamics of each of them and the settings they’d require.
Cooperative learning suggests that each participant in a group is responsible for the execution of their part of the work and its success. Each participant’s role and tasks are predefined and the process is supervised and guided by a leader or supervisor. In collaborative learning, each group member has the freedom to determine their own roles and tasks while helping each other learn and apply the learning material. In this case, the rules aren’t set by a supervisor and the group learning is self-directed.
Although both approaches suggest that there is a common goal through the participation of all members of the group, their pedagogical objectives and modalities differ. Cooperative learning has as an objective to ensure that everyone learns planned, structured and compulsory content and at the same time improves their collaborative skills. On the other hand, collaborative learning aims to help learners achieve both a common shared goal and their personal objectives while allowing them to learn by exploring, discovering and developing content.
Collaborative learning theories
To understand the topic of collaborative learning better, we should go back to the basics and look into the different collaborative learning theories. They are all underpinned by the concept that learning is a naturally social act, and that it occurs through engaging with others, attempting to solve problems and looking to understand the world. We’ll look into some of the main theories related to collaborative learning below:
1. Vygotsky’s theory of social development
According to Vygotsky’s social learning theory, the emphasis is on the importance of social interaction for developing learning and cognition. He believed that individual development doesn’t happen without being informed by social and cultural contexts, and that community plays an important factor in creating knowledge. One of the important aspects of his theory is the Zone of Proximal Development, according to which, if you visualise what a person can and can’t do as zones, between them, there is a third zone that’s known as the zone of proximal development. It shows what the person can learn, but needs guidance to be able to reach there.
Vygotsky is widely regarded as the father of social constructivism for his theories surrounding social interaction and human development. Indeed, Moodle is designed from a social constructionist point of view, where courses are communities of practise and where learners construct and share artefacts of their own knowledge within social situations.
2. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who specialised in child development. His understanding of cognitive development centred on the concept of a schema, which he described as a unit of knowledge people use to understand the world around them. Multiple schemas form the schemata, whose depth and number were directly connected to cognitive development. Piaget says that as children develop, they form an understanding of the world, which undergoes repeated corrections based on their experiences. The schemata drive this understanding, which they acquire through assimilation and accommodation of experience. It is only in the former that the schemata are sufficient, while it undergoes change for the latter process, where new information is presented. The reason behind this, as explained by Piaget, as a need for achieving equilibrium, where a child’s schemata can help the assimilation of most of the new information. Accommodation happens when this equilibrium is disturbed, thereby equipping the child with new knowledge. Both processes happen in an active learner who interacts with physical and social environments.
3. Kegan’s cognitive developmental theory
Robert Kegan, an American development psychologist, suggested that the cognitive development of people is a continuous process and not one that stops at the age of 25, as it was previously thought. He gave importance to the transition humans undergo from the subject framework to the object framework, citing it as the driving force behind cognitive development. In the subject framework, humans are incapable of self-reflection but can form beliefs, behaviours, and assumptions about the world. While in the object framework, they’re capable of detaching themselves from a concept for an objective evaluation. This is where an independent sense of self forms, apart from the characteristics of wisdom and maturity, enabling people to be more socially aware and handle themselves and the relationships they form better. In simple words, Kegan proposed that becoming an adult involves transitioning to the higher stage of development, which is the object framework.
Collaborative learning strategies in the workplace
When rightly employed, collaborative learning strategies can be transformational for learning groups, both in educational and professional settings. They can be introduced in the workplace via the following methods:
1. Activities involving finding solutions as a team
This approach works by bringing together people from different teams or departments and giving them a problem to solve. They are provided with a broad goal they need to achieve. Examples include finding changes that can be made to an existing product, suggesting features to help the client in a specific way, and so on. In the end, teams can present their solution and justify it. This exercise can help increase the independence and interdependence of the participants.
2. Developing a new product
Collaborative learning can bring positive results regarding new product development. When different minds from the same company come together to better understand various areas of the business, to identify what kind of products can be introduced, they can produce novel ideas. This can be followed by teams pitching their ideas, receiving critical evaluations, and further using those comments to make their product better. In the process, the team will also participate in active learning and social interaction.
3. Presenting jobs across departments
Different teams within a company can be completely unaware of how the other departments function. Knowing this can be beneficial for any challenges that they might face. To resolve this challenge, teams can have job presentations, where they explain to other teams what exactly they do, the problems they solve, any projects they’re currently engaged in, etc. This process can be followed by a question and answer session where the attendees can propose solutions based on their knowledge as well. Such an exercise will increase the dialogue between teams and provide a better understanding of the company to each team member.
4. Evaluation of the training system
The training system can be evaluated by a team comprising newer employees and senior ones within the teams or departments. The benefit is bringing multiple perspectives into the process. The participants can work on the systems in place, identify flaws, and provide recommendations on how they can be updated to better fit the organisation and the employees.
5. Building a community
For good collaborative learning to occur, an apt environment is necessary. For this, building a learning community where open conversation and problem-solving are encouraged will be helpful. Members can greatly benefit by teaching and learning from each other through constructive collaboration.
While implementing these strategies, a couple of things should also be kept in mind to increase the effect, such as giving clear instructions, setting the group size to 3-5, being flexible regarding rules, etc. Mixing and matching the teams, asking teams to train others, and pairing up a new employee with an experienced one are all additional strategies that can be followed as well.
Benefits of collaborative learning in the workplace
Although the benefits of collaborative learning overlap in both workplace and classroom settings, there are some key outcomes that are specifically applicable in professional settings:
- Higher employee engagement: This is especially helpful for remote settings, where virtual relationships can be built by interacting through calls or chats. Such engagements help build knowledge, solve problems, and share experiences.
- Better coordination: This is related to employee engagement. When someone in the team faces a challenge or a problem, the presence of a team will ensure faster resolution through good coordination, which also leads to faster skill development.
- Retention of employees: An environment that engages and coordinates employees in the right manner creates a good work culture. With support and assistance from respective teams, there’ll be better satisfaction and growth for each employee.
- A democratic learning environment: Collaborative learning happens in such a space, so everyone is benefitting from a joint intellectual effort. There’s room for everyone to listen and speak as well.
- Customisable approach: Participants can identify learning gaps specific to the company and work towards resolving them. This method also helps employees keep up with the fast changes that organisations may undergo, by covering new gaps faster. It’s also accommodating of everyone and doesn’t follow the ‘one size fits all approach’.
At its core, Moodle is based on social constructionism, which is the understanding that people develop knowledge in a social context. This is why Moodle LMS and Moodle Workplace go beyond the basic content features of most learning platforms and provide multiple means for learners to engage with learning materials where they learn “by doing” and by interacting with each other and their instructor. It enables L&D Managers, HR Managers or Trainers to create learning programmes that provide learners the opportunity to collaborate in developing their knowledge, sharing ideas, brainstorming solutions and showcasing their understanding through various features such as Messaging, Forums, Wikis and multi-modal formative and summative assessments.
These features can help employers bring collaborative learning amidst employees in remote and hybrid work situations. For example, the Messaging feature on Moodle helps in such cases to increase employee engagement and facilitate better coordination. Users have the option to export messages if they need shareable proofs of official communication. The Forum feature offers a similar function to messaging but can work better for activities such as brainstorming sessions and asynchronous learning activities. It’s ideal for online teams and helps build a democratic learning environment for everyone to be able to speak and read as well as for people in different timezones or available at different times. The Wiki feature is highly collaborative. It allows employees to work together on the same document simultaneously, so they can be more efficient in their tasks. This feature provides an excellent opportunity for collaborative learning by sharing knowledge.
Furthermore, Moodle fosters collaboration through some of our certified integration as well, such as BigBlueButton, an open source virtual classroom enabling instructors to hold online classes with real-time sharing of audio, video, slides, chat, desktop, and polls. Thanks to the integration teachers can use the platform for synchronous classes and add collaborative features such as interactive whiteboards where everyone can participate or group work in breakout rooms.
Blending various comprehensive features, Moodle helps transfer the benefits of collaborative learning into the online and blended environment. Although the concept started with face-to-face collaborations, the rise of remote workspaces has inspired the creation of such a platform to aid the continuation of business as usual.
“Collaborative learning is a key concept in online learning, and we at Moodle, are committed to providing learners with opportunities to interact with each other and their teachers. Good teaching or training, whether in a classroom, fully online, or blended model, must give learners a range of ways to access learning material, engage with it and exhibit the knowledge they have acquired. With the rich features of Moodle LMS, there are multiple ways to interact and achieve all these things. We invite learners to join our Moodle Academy course on Moodle Course Activities that covers ways to encourage discussion, collaboration, and other interactivity in your Moodle course,” says Jessica Gramp, Moodle Community Manager.