· 2 min read · Features

The case for collaborative learning


The way we design and structure training courses is in a state of flux as we move into the e-learning era and L&D professionals add “social” to the blend.

Today a training course is likely to be a sophisticated, self-managed online programme and when we add a social element we enable a collaborative learning platform. Learning is most effective when students are encouraged to think and talk together, to discuss ideas, question, analyse and solve problems, without the mediation of a teacher.

So ‘collaborative learning’ is an umbrella phrase covering a range of approaches involving input from students and tutor. The tutor seeks to create an environment where learners are able to work collaboratively with opportunities to share emerging ideas and understandings. The aim is to stimulate the development of autonomy, responsibility and creativity by engendering meaningful communication and co-operative effort.

The model works really well where the learning can be integrated into working life because students value the input and recognise the importance of the issues and topics covered. It’s about shared responsibility and ownership of educational materials that inspire, engage and challenge learners.

Collaborative learning offers a system whereby students, at various performance levels, work together towards a common goal. Students are responsible for one another's learning as well as their own, so the success of one student helps the others to be successful. The advantages in terms of business training are obvious as there is an emphasis on non-competitive teamwork.


‘Two heads are better than one’ and ‘the sum is greater than the parts’ are the usual endorsements for teamwork. It works like this:

  • Specify the learning objective
  • Outline the collaborative learning structure
  • Explain key elements of the collaborative process
  • Encourage students to explore routes to achieving the objectives
  • Group members collaborate to formulate judgments, opinions and solutions

You can see that if the learning is well designed on collaborative lines you get a lot of bang for your buck.

It’s better to be social

Presented with a crisis, our ability to learn and adapt as a species is unrivalled. We’ve moved from the industrial age to the information age and the amount of information available to an average human is unparalleled in our history.

Digital tools and social media have a major impact on the social, economic and cultural aspects of society and education primarily by enabling networking practices, information sharing, distributed learning and content creation.

Unlike traditional individual learning, collaborative learning leverages group resources and skills. It’s not a question of being taught skills or information by a tutor, but a focus on ways of thinking which involve creative and critical approaches to problem-solving and decision making.

Nor is it a free for all, tasks need to be well structured and the approach must foster interaction between all members of the tutorial group. Online resources facilitate learning through collaborative efforts perhaps with a learning management system offering features such as chatrooms, wikis, discussion threads, videos, application sharing and blogs.

The case for collaboration

  • Learning is a social activity, we learn best by building knowledge, understanding and skills through working together.
  • We are social animals, often our goals relate to group or community.
  • Training that functions as a learning community produces better results.
  • The ability to learn and work with others is a key competency for work
  • Co-operative learning builds interpersonal skills and attitudes that are crucial in a networked environment.

Discussing L&D activities with peers is a powerful motivating force and a key benefit of collaborative learning is that it is not just the training content that enables student development. It also fosters personal skills that bring professional benefits.

Michael Moran is founder and CEO of 10 Eighty, a strengths-based consultancy specialising in organisational and people performance.