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What Is Collaborative Learning? - Benefits, Theory & Definition

What Is Collaborative Learning? - Benefits, Theory & Definition
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  • 0:02 Collaborative Learning Basics
  • 0:45 Ways to Use…
  • 2:45 Concepts
  • 3:56 Why Use Collaborative…
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out about collaborative learning, how it helps the individual student, and the theories behind it. After completing the lesson, take a short quiz to test your knowledge.

Collaborative Learning Basics

Have you ever worked with a group of people on a project? Or asked a friend to help you with an assignment? If so, you were being collaborative, or working with someone else, to reach a goal.

In education, collaborative learning is a technique teachers use to group students together to impact learning in a positive way. Proponents of collaborative learning believe it helps students in many ways, as we'll see below. They theorize that working together increases learning outcomes. Collaborative learning can occur between just two students or within a larger group, and it can take a variety of forms. Let's take a look at Ms. Tyler's classroom. She's a pro at using collaborative learning to maximize learning.

Ways to Use Collaborative Learning

Ms. Tyler is writing her lesson plans for the week. She knows how important social interaction is for children and understands that they can often teach each other and explain things in ways she can't. She often uses collaborative learning to encourage her students to interact with and rely on each other as resources. Here's how it looks in the classroom.

One-on-One

Ms. Tyler makes sure there are plenty of chances for her students to relate to each other. She sets up peer learning, or times when one student works with another student. These opportunities can be a tutoring session, peer instruction, or a time when both students contribute equally. For example, in math, Ms. Tyler is pairing up George, a student she knows struggles with fractions, with Martin, a stronger student. These two will work together; Martin will tutor and help George when he falters. She also puts Katherine together with Anna; Katherine has missed several days, and Anna is capable of catching her up with the class. Finally, she plans on Molly and Mike teaming up for the week to focus on a project. Both students bring strengths to the table and will learn from each other as they work.

Small Group

Ms. Tyler often uses group work in her classroom. She sometimes has students get together for a simple, quick learning activity, such as playing a game or creating a chart. She also organizes larger units featuring hands-on, project-based learning that require students to work together as a team. These longer units can take a few weeks or more. In addition to projects, Ms. Tyler groups her students in reading or math based on their abilities or on the skill she's teaching. Working with smaller groups allows her to zoom in her instruction, and the students are able to listen to and learn from each other more easily in this smaller format.

How does Ms. Tyler know so much about collaborative learning? She recalls an instructor from her college days who taught her important things to remember when planning for collaborative learning.

Concepts of Collaborative Learning

Ms. Tyler's professor taught her that people are social creatures by nature. Collaborative learning hones in on this idea and builds learning activities around four main concepts:

  • Children learn most by being active. Collaborative learning focuses on active participation, like moving around, drawing, creating, and performing.
  • All learning should be student-focused, not content-focused. This means that when planning for instruction, Ms. Tyler should consider how her students learn and what methods she can use to enhance that learning.
  • Children sometimes learn more easily and readily from a peer or group of peers. Creating opportunities for this dynamic in a classroom adds to traditional teacher-led instruction.
  • Students need to be offered chances to solve problems. Working with other students to find solutions to problems, like a word problem in math or a long-term collaborative group project, gives children a chance to solve problems in tandem or with other group members. This gives them positive skills in appropriate social interaction, like cooperation, listening to others, formulating opinions, and compromise.

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