Collaborative learning

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Facilitating collaborative learning

For the past 40 years cooperative group learning has been the pedagogical method of choice in Western classrooms for mediating the social issues facing children, adolescents and young adults. These issues include diversity, anti-social behaviour, loneliness, self-esteem and egocentrism amongst many others (Johnson et al., 2000).

There are many positive outcomes stemming from group learning including achievement, retention, motivation, moral reasoning, social and cognitive development, valuing differences, transfer of knowledge, and the reduction of prejudice (Johnson et al., 2000).

In a meta-analysis of 164 studies on academic achievement as a result of cooperative group learning, Johnson et al. (2000) drew comparisons between cooperative, competitive and individualistic learning.

They discovered eight different methods for facilitating cooperative learning, all of which produced ‘significantly higher achievement than did competitive or individualistic learning’ (Johnson et al., 2000).

Collaborative learning is more than just putting students together

Forming a sense of community through interdependence, task cohesion, psychological safety, and group potency is crucial for the development of social and cognitive processes (Bossche et al., 2006). Therefore, developing a sense of community is required for the successful facilitation of collaborative learning. Approaches and frameworks for creating such environments include constructivism, transformative pedagogy and activity theory.

Collaborative Zone of Proximal Development

When a group of learners with varying skills and backgrounds engage in collaborative learning their ZPDs overlap, forming a shared area for the exchange of information. This exchange of information formulates more complex conceptualisations, meaning that ‘collaboration drives learners’ construction of their mental structures’ (Borthick, Jones & Wakai, 2003).