Promoting Collaborative Learning in The Online Environment: How Can Faculty Overcome Challenges?

By Nancy A. Walker, Ph.D.

How do adult students benefit from a collaborative learning environment? As an online facilitator/faculty member, we are to foster and support collaboration between students. Needless to say, there are always challenges to this collaborative journey due to the online learning/teaching format.  How can we lessen these and have a smoother collaborative application?

Collaborative learning is learning and working toward a common goal in peer group facilitation. Learners are normally at different levels taking responsible for their own learning, as well as the learning of others in the group. Adult students in particular benefit from a collaborative environment with empirical evidence showing that cooperative peer groups attain higher levels of cognition with retention that far surpasses an individual learner (Bruffee, 1983). Collaboration and course design encourages interest in subject matter and advances higher-level critical thinking skills. The distributed learning model prompts adult learners into joint discussions, supporting the learner to develop critical thinking skills.

As faculty, we are to foster and support collaboration in the online course room by encouraging and prompting peer discussions on topics related to the course. We necessitate prompting discussion on topics that are associated with the course topic in promotion of the student’s use of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation for incorporation in the learning environment, and daily life (Bloom, 1956). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a standard model classes is pertinent to effective and progressive collaboration between students. It necessitates to be used for implementation to aid students in order to facilitate engaging the student in the online format in a shared effort, in nurturing a successful learning community, and in alleviating any fear or frustration the students may have in dealing with the course topics themselves. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy allows encouragement of the student and promotes teamwork through the student using the model as a cognizant guide. As well, the students are able to use the model in application to relevant “real-world,” professional scenarios via prompting and evaluation from the instructor.

There are many benefits to online collaboration and team building. Some benefits include though are not limited to:

  1. Promoting critical thinking skills.
  2. Promoting creative thinking through social stimulation and sharing of ideas.
  3. Requiring active student involvement in the learning process. Students increase preparation and practice working with one another.
  4. Providing a safe place for questions.
  5. Creating more personal environment in large classes.
  6. Providing a social support system for students.
  7. Building diversity understanding among students.
  8. Allowing version control management with the creation of a central folder or location where recent versions are saved.
  9. Developing team skills used on the job and beyond.

Challenges in promoting and supporting a collaborative learning environment online may simply be the personality and learning styles of the learners. While collaborative learning is extremely beneficial to adult learners via aiding in personal and professional growth and development, the human collaborative effort is never flawless. A main key is building collaboration through community.

Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Bruffee, K.A. (1983). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

About the Teacher in Pajamas: Dr. Nancy Walker earned a BA in Liberal Arts/Psychology from Saint Vincent College, and a BA in Elementary Education K-8 with a specialization in Spanish from Seton Hill University. She earned an MS in General Psychology with specialization in Educational/Developmental Psychology from Capella University. She has a Ph.D. in General Psychology with specialization in Lifespan Development from Capella University. She has a wonderful husband and two, older daughters that share in the love of learning and helping others to learn and grow, too. They spend most of their time involved in community and church outreaches that are foundational in education, social service, and missions work. They also enjoy traveling and playing basketball and softball.

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