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Collaborative Learning: Group Work

Collaborative Learning: Group Work

27 June, 2016

Definition of Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct.


  1. The learner or student is the main focus of instruction.
  2. Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance
  3. Working in groups is a vital mode of learning.
  4. Structured strategies to developing solutions to real-world problems should be integrated into learning.

Collaborative learning can happen peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that includes students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts, or find solutions to problems. This often occurs in a class session after students are introduced to course material through readings or videos before class, and/or through instructor lectures. Similar to the idea that two or three heads are better than one, many instructors have discovered that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions.

Group work or collaborative learning can take a variety of forms, such as quick, active learning activities in class or more involved group projects that span the course of a semester.

Effects of impact of collaborative learning or group work

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

The following are the advantages of collaborative learning:

  1. Improves of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
  2. Promotes student-faculty interaction.
  3. Enhances student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
  4. Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
  5. Preparation for real life social and employment situations.

Examples of collaborative learning or group work activities

  1. Stump your partner

Students take a minute to create a difficult question based on the lecture content up to that point.

Students pose the question to the person sitting next to them.

To take this activity a step further, ask students to write down their questions and hand them in. These questions can be used to make tests or exams. They can also be reviewed to measure student understanding.

  1. Think-pair-share/ Write-pair-share

The instructor poses a question that needs analysis, evaluation, or synthesis.

Students take a few minutes to think through a suitable response.

Students turn to a partner (or small groups) and share their responses. Take this a step further by asking students to find someone who finds at an answer different from their own and convince their partner to change their mind.

Student responses are shared within larger teams or with the whole class during a follow-up discussion.

  1. Catch-up

Stop at a transition point in your lecture.

Have students turn to a partner or work in small groups to match notes and ask clarifying questions.

After a few minutes, open the floor to a few questions.

  1. Fishbowl debate

Ask students to sit in groups of three.

Assign roles. For example, the person on left takes one position on a topic for debate, the person on right takes the opposite position, and the person in the middle takes notes and chooses which side is the most convincing and gives an argument for his or her choice.

Debrief by calling on a few groups to summarize their discussions.

  1. Case study

Make four to five case studies of similar difficulty.

Have students work in groups of four or five to work through and analyze their case study.

Give 10-15 minutes (or enough time to work through the cases).

Walk around and answer any questions.

Call on groups randomly and ask that students share their analysis. Continue until each case study has been addressed.

  1. Team-based learning (adapted from L.K. Michaelsen in Davis, 2009. p.215)

Start a course unit by giving students some tasks to finish, such as reading or lab assignments. Consider assigning these to be completed before class.

Assess students’ comprehension of the material with a quick multiple-choice quiz. Have students submit their answers.

Assign students to groups and have them review their answers with group members to reach consensus. Have each group submit one answered quiz.

Record both the individual student assessment scores and the final group assessment score (both of which are used toward each student’s course grade).

Deliver a lecture that specially clears any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge the assessments reveal.

Give groups a difficult assignment, such as solving a problem or applying a theory to a real world situation.

  1. Group problem solving

There are many instructional strategies that involve students working together to solve a problem, including inquiry based learning, authentic learning, and discovery learning. While they each have their own unique characteristics, they all fundamentally involve:

  1. Presenting students with a problem.

Giving some structure or guidance toward solving the problem. Note, however, that they are all student-centered activities in which the instructor may have a very minimal role.

Reaching a final outcome or solution.