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Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning and cooperative learning are popular teaching methods. This article explains traditional types of collaborative learning styles, tips on collaborative learning in the classroom, and ways to use technology and collaborative learning.

Collaborate comes from the Latin roots col-  meaning “together” and labore meaning “to work,” and it means “to work together. Collaborative learning, then, is an effort by a student team working together in the exploration of an important question or in the creation of a significant project. Some people use the terms collaborative learning and cooperative learning more or less interchangeably, but others use cooperative learning to designate a specific type of collaborative learning, and we’ll be discussing the overarching category of collaborative learning in this article. To read more about cooperative learning, see the article, “Cooperative Learning.”

Traditional Types of Collaboration

Collaboration can take place in many ways, some traditional and others developing as technology brings new possibilities to light. One time-honored example of collaboration is found in book publishing. It is typical for a book to have a number of team members including at least one author who creates the content, an editor who has primary responsibility for working with the author to make sure the content is conceptually honed and coherent, a copy editor who focuses on clear, correct, and consistent language, and a proofreader, who makes sure that the book matches the manuscript and also keeps an eye out for any errors or infelicities that have slipped through the cracks. All of this work is in conjunction with a book designer who defines the layout, the type face, and the cover, as well as an art department that assists with any graphical material. The book also has to be printed and marketed, jobs that fall to other members of this large, collaborative team. Another example of collaboration is a lyricist and composer who write a song together for a singer who - with support from an instrumental ensemble - performs it.

Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Collaborative learning can include all the kinds of working together mentioned in the above paragraph. Rather than a student having sole responsibility for his or her work, collaborative learning offers an opportunity to develop different working relationships.

  • Like the author, someone might come up with an idea of how the project should go forward.
  • Like lyricist and composer, each member of the collaborative learning group might be responsible for a separate portion of the work that is then meshed.
  • Like editor, members of the group may review the other’s work for concept or coherence.
  • Like the book designer, someone might help plan how the final presentation will be done.
  • Like the copyeditor, a group member might check the work for accuracy, such as typos and punctuation, before its published.
  • Like the singer, a member of the group might have the role of presenting other’s work to the class.

Technology and Collaborative Learning

New technology has offered new opportunities for collaborative learning. Using email, instant messaging, or videochat, students can collaborate with peers at other schools and even in other countries.

Shared documents and the ability to comment on virtual documents enhances collaborative learning possibilities. Software programs like Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word make it easy to pass documents around for input from a team. Online solutions like Google Docs and ThinkFree Workspace allow sharing of files on which people can collaborate in real time.

Although these solutions may have been designed for business use, they can be adapted, with the help of a teacher or parent, to student use. But it is necessary to read the Terms of Service very carefully. I, personally, refuse to use Google Docs for anything because of particular clauses in their terms of service, though Google search engine is my number one choice for searching.

Speaking of searching, SearchTogether is a new tool fro Microsoft that allows collaborative searching using the Internet Explorer 7 browser. SearchTogether allows people to search at the same time and avoid duplication of effort. This could be a real time save as students engage in research for a collaborative learning . Again, this is an option that should only be explored with adult guidance, and because it is for IE 7, will not work on an Apple computer.


Educational Broadcasting Corporation: Thirteen Ed Online: Cooperative and Collaborative Learning -

NY Times: The Online Search Party: A Way to Share the Load -