Collaboration involves two or more people (or minions!) working together to realize or achieve something successfully.

The word collaborate comes from a Latin term that means “to labor together.” To collaborate is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.”

What Is Collaborative Learning?

Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of students working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product.

According to Gerlach, “Collaborative learning is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves (Gerlach, 1994). It is through the talk that learning occurs.”

Collaborative learning is engaging, social and fun!

  • Collaborative Learning is an active process, a fun challenge that requires learners to actively engage with their peers
  • Collaborative Learning includes data processing. You sift through the knowledge you have already acquired and choose the relevant info to use in problem solving debates/discussions.
  • Collaborative Learning is more about processing and synthesising information rather than simply memorising and regurgitating it.
  • Collaborative Learning is diverse and fluid and sees the learner benefit from being exposed to different viewpoints from people with varied backgrounds.
  • Collaborative Learning is rooted in a social environment where conversation between learners takes place.
  • When applied appropriately, collaborative learning can lead to deep, academic learning, or transformative learning.
  • Collaborative learning as a result can also directly support the development of a range of high level intellectual skills, such as critical thinking, analytical thinking, synthesis, and evaluation, which are key requirements for learners in a digital age.

How does Collaborative Learning work?

In a collaborative learning setting, learners have the opportunity to converse with peers, present and defend ideas, exchange diverse beliefs, question other conceptual frameworks, and be actively engaged.

In order for collaboration to succeed, everyone involved needs to feel that they have something to gain from the collaboration or feel that they are doing a meaningful thing and working towards a valuable end result.

Motivating Adult Learners to collaborate – be sure to highlight the benefits!

For collaboration to work, participants need to work together to solve problems, offering advice and help when needed. Two minds are better than one but better yet, how about three or four?

Collaboration encourages participants to consider alternatives. Collaboration work best when the group has a wide range of skills and participants have differing areas expertise

Collaboration brings individuals together into a group entity with a shared work purpose.
Collaboration encourages everyone to be an active player. The participants decide when things need to happen and them make them happen.

Collaborative Learning and Adult Learners (Andragogy)

Collaborative Learning works well across all age groups and abilities but it is particularly suited to adult learners. Here we get a little bit theoretical to explain to you why…

Andragogy (adult learning) is a theory that holds a set of assumptions about how adults learn. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic (traditional lecturing or teacher “knows all” model).

Knowles’ 5 Adult Learning Theory Assumptions tells us what adult learners are looking for a very specific and meaningful learning experience which includes:

  1. Motivated and Self-Directed Learning – activities that offer minimum instruction and maximum autonomy
  2. Life Experience and Knowledge – activities that facilitate reflective learning opportunities
  3. Goal Orientated – activities that motivate inquiry and further research.
  4. Relevancy Orientated – activities that include application of what you are learning
  5. Practical – activities that include real life situations and a move from theory knowledge to hands-on problem solving

Why Engage In Collaborative Learning?

In the previous sections, we learned that collaborating with others can provide you with the additional skills and resources to do things that you couldn’t achieve on your own and we learned a little about collaborative learning, how and why it works and where it fits in the adult education space. Now we will look at some of the benefits of collaboration

Watch and hear one young engineers experience of collaboration and collaborative learning.

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

  • Students work cooperatively rather than competitively
  • Enhances self-management skills
  • Involves students in developing curriculum and class procedures resulting in learners having increased control over learning.
  • Uses a team approach to problem solving while maintaining individual accountability
  • Stimulates critical thinking and helps students clarify ideas through discussion and debate
  • Develops higher level thinking skills
  • Students are taught how to criticize ideas, not people. Greater ability of students to view situations from others’ perspectives (development of empathy)
  • Creates a stronger social support system
  • Encourages alternate student assessment techniques
  • Addresses learning style differences among students
  • Classroom anxiety is significantly reduced
  • CL processes create environments where students can practice building leadership skills.
  • Enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience
  • Encourages student responsibility for learning
  • Promotes innovation in teaching and classroom techniques
  • CL activities promote social and academic relationships well beyond the classroom and individual course
  • Students master knowledge through constructing content rather than through memorizing content
  • Promotes a positive attitude toward the subject matter
  • Develops oral communication skills and social interaction skills and encourages diversity understanding
  • Creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning and fosters and develops interpersonal relationships
  • Test anxiety is significantly reduced
  • Promotes higher achievement
  • CL activities can be used to personalize large lecture classes
    Classroom resembles real life social and employment situations

Different Types Of Collaborative Learning

Here are some ways that collaborative learning can differ:

Open vs Closed Collaborative Learning

Open Collaboration Learning

  • Anyone can join and everyone can participate
  • A problem is set/published which launches the collaboration for anyone to contribute to
  • Support is sought from an unlimited number of problem solvers, who may contribute
  • can be used when the subject area is not well-defined
  • must be easy for participants to contribute ideas, work and resources

Closed Collaborative Learning

  • Occurs in private groups where access is limited or moderated
  • Here collaborators tackle problems in small groups with one or more people.
  • participants chosen by a manager, educator or a group leader
  • usually consist of a smaller number of participants than the open model
  • can be used for example in inter-company, inter-school collaborations
  • should be used when the subject area is well defined and it is possible to determine the most appropriate contributors for the project

Time and Place – Collaboration can differ in terms of timing and place also.

Same time/Real Collaboration

  • Happens when everyone interacts in real time, usually occurs face to face like in meetings/discussions i.e same time, same place.
  • Allows for immediate response and feedback.
  • Thanks to technology though, we no longer have to be in the same place to communicate and collaborate at the same time.
  • Technology enables us to collaborate at the same time but be in different places

Different time

  • This occurs where the interaction is not time sensitive and replies are not instant – an example of this is email.
  • Technology has also influenced the way this type of collaboration occurs making it flexible: available anytime, anyplace.
  • Can be used for one to one communication and one to many communication.
  • Contribution to discussion can be more evenly distributed.

Leadership can also differentiate the collaborative learning process.

Equal Standing

  • In this collaborative model, all participants have equal ranking.
  • All the participants share their challenges and make come up with solutions together

Individual Leader

  • Occurs when the process is ‘Top Down’. For example, a boss, teacher or group leader leads and sets the tone for the collaborative learning process

Preparing Yourself For Collaborative Learning

In the sections which follow you will learn about Peer Connections and some tools you can use to connect and collaborate. Before moving on, first have a think about the type of collaborator you are and the skills you need to be aware of to make the very most of collaborative learning.

The Ringleader

Big ideas person, discussion starter and collaboration initiator, lots of creative energy


The Expert

Borderline geek, loves trying and mastering, new and innovative ways of working

The Socialite

Natural storyteller and connector, great communication skills and is used to social conversations on Facebook, Twitter etc

The Siloist

Enjoys working alone, often reluctant to share work in progress, likes to hoard information

The Dinosaur

Creature of habit, not keen on trying new things, takes encourage to embrace new tools

The Skeptic

Can be very vocal opponents to collaboration, often focus on the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) mentality

The Executive

Decision maker that is driven by time,
speed and efficiency

The Stealth Ninja

Likes to lay low and oversee without too much involvement


The Taskmaster

Loves being organised, is operational focused and keen to get things done, loves lists and action plans

Skills and Characteristics of Great Collaborators:

  1. Team focused. To successfully collaborate, you need to be a team player and think about “we” rather than “I”. A great collaborator is mindful of shared goals and group success.
  2. Generous. A great collaborator is willing to take the first step and pitch in, even if they won’t get the spotlight. Generosity is also an incredibly desirable leadership characteristic.
  3. Curious. Great collaborators are good at asking the right questions. They don’t interrogate; they simply follow their natural curiosity because they want to understand.
  4. Appreciative. The best collaborators express sincere appreciation for all that team members have contributed. They’re not shy about expressing this appreciation and they give credit where credit is due.
  5. Listens to understand. Great collaborators listen attentively to what is being said. But more importantly, they listen to understand.
  6. Gives and expects trust. More than anything, highly successful collaborations are built on safety and trust. Great collaborators help create and maintain that trusting environment. They give their trust freely and expect to receive trust in return.
  7. Builds relationships; breaks down walls. Collaboration is all about working together. Great collaborators see the value in being usually well connected and work hard to build and maintain relationships with others.
  8. Diplomatic. The best collaborators are diplomats. They know that relationships are built on mutual respect.