Collaborative learning requires learners to work together to make connections, uncover new ways of understanding concepts, and achieve a shared goal (Laal & Laal, 2012; Falcione et al. 2019). It continues to be one of the most effective instructional methods for students. Studies show that collaboration increases students’ academic achievement and self-efficacy. And while it may seem more challenging to facilitate collaboration in online learning, research shows that student participation in online collaborative learning activities are related to better course outcomes — which explains the rise of online collaboration tools for students.
The importance of collaborative learning should not be underestimated. With more colleges and universities expanding their online learning and hybrid course offerings, it’s important to find new and innovative ways to keep students engaged, especially without the built-it interactions of a physical classroom. In-person, there are numerous opportunities for organic collaboration. So for those working within the digital landscape, they have to make a deliberate effort to create these opportunities. Collaboration in online learning can take many forms, and just as there are different types of students, there are various ways to promote engagement and collaboration within the digital space.
Collaborative learning in online classes requires learners to work together to make connections, uncover new ways of understanding concepts, and achieve a shared goal (Laal & Laal, 2012; Falcione et al. 2019). Student collaboration proves to be one of the most effective instructional methods for students. Studies show that collaboration increases students’ academic achievement and self-efficacy. And while it may seem more challenging to facilitate collaboration in online learning, research shows that student participation in online collaboration is related to better course outcomes — which also explains the rise of online collaboration tools for students.
The benefits of collaboration in face-to-face classes are evident, but perhaps even more so in digital learning environments; students need to be able to interact with their peers and instructors. By creating spaces for online collaboration, you can better engage course participants and help keep all of your students on the same page. Without a solid framework for interacting with peers and instructors, students can quickly become overwhelmed or feel isolated, which inevitably leads to disengagement.
Additionally, collaborative learning in online classes allows instructors to step back and let students take greater control of their education. Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and feedback exercises can provide a path toward improvement and increase student motivation. Plus, hearing diverse perspectives can help promote a more positive classroom experience overall.
Collaborative Learning Benefits
Collaborative learning benefits range from the development of leadership skills to increased knowledge retention. By engaging in collaborative learning, students are exposed to diverse viewpoints, which can broaden their perspectives and encourage higher-level thinking. One of the other advantages of online collaborative learning is that it allows instructors to remove themselves from the learning process to see how well students are absorbing critical concepts by listening in on their discussions. Instructors can then adjust their curriculum or instructional plans to then better meet student needs.
Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems. Similar to the idea that two or three heads are better than one, educational researchers have found that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions. Additional research from Florida International University shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. Students experience the following benefits:
Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills
Promotion of student-faculty interaction
Increased student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility
Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives
Preparation for real-life social and employment situations
If you’re still wondering if facilitating collaboration in online learning is worth it, just look to any of the various platforms and tools to see how they inspire discussion and connection online between students. Do they make it easy, fast, engaging? Looking at Harmonize’s online collaboration tools, which integrate seamlessly with LMSs, students have quick access to all the tools they need to engage with their online course. Institutions have shown to boost engagement, spark creativity, and generate active online course discussions.
The tools enable critical, reflective thinking and encourage students to stay connected, no matter where they happen to be learning from. Unlike some other platforms that rely on clunky, outdated technology or multiple logins, Harmonize makes it easy for students to connect and communicate with each other, which is helping to create a better online classroom environment for all.
Vibrant, multimedia grid-like discussion boards in Harmonize help students create presence.
How to Facilitate Collaboration in Online Learning
Facilitating effective collaboration in online learning can be tricky. There are many types of collaboration, and what works for one course may not work for another. For this reason, it can be helpful to communicate with peers in your department to assess student needs and determine what type of collaborative exercises and online tools would benefit students most. For example, if you teach large classes, online group learning can be particularly advantageous, as it allows students to break off into smaller groups for more targeted, direct discussion.
On the other hand, your students might also appreciate online, full class discussion boards in which they can share ideas widely and comment on their peers’ posts at a later time. Consider pairing your next lecture with asynchronous online discussion. Lectures are great for conveying information, but in order to truly digest that information, students need to be able to interact with one another, express their thoughts and opinions, and ask questions related to the course material — in other words, collaborate. Online collaboration tools enable them to do just that, and it is for this reason that instructors should look for any and all opportunities to encourage interaction between their students.
Contrary to popular belief, online learning can be just as collaborative as traditional learning, provided that instructors implement the right tools. Using discussion boards, video, chat, and other methods of communication, create opportunities for students to work on group projects and exchange ideas. When facilitating collaboration in online learning, also be sure to consider the students you’re working with. For example, if you’re teaching a small humanities class, collaborative learning activities centered around large, quantitative-based projects may be less than ideal for your students. You might instead focus on paired discussions and more intimate group projects.
Smaller learning groups are ideal for students that learn better when collaborating more directly with their peers. By contrast, those that appreciate hearing a wider range of perspectives may benefit more from larger learning groups. This is why it’s important to consider the needs and preferences of the students you are teaching. While it may be impossible to find a solution that works for each person, you can get a general feel for the collective class preference. In fact, polling your students to see how much and what kind of collaboration they prefer could be especially insightful.
Chat is one of the best tools for collaborative online learning, regardless of the class you’re teaching. It’s a great way to get students involved without requiring that they have their cameras turned on. This can be especially beneficial for naturally shy students who might not otherwise participate.
Collaborative learning in the classroom can also be facilitated by asynchronous assignments. Students learn material on their own and then share their findings with their classmates when they regroup. This collaborative strategy for students, often known as the jigsaw technique, is a great way to encourage independent learning. Having students report to their classmates what they’ve found is a great way to hold them accountable for their learning and teach them how to effectively convey information to their peers. With this technique, instructors can take a step back to gauge the extent to which students are grasping the course material and step in as needed.
Always a crowd pleaser and sure to spur teaming or collaboration among your students, digital scavenger hunts are one of the most fun and widely used online collaborative learning activities. They are both informative and engage students in a way that traditional lectures cannot.
Finally, to learn more about collaboration activities for students online, don’t be afraid to collaborate with your own colleagues. Look at what your peers are doing. Take note of their respective teaching styles, the type of material they’re teaching, and how students respond to collaboration activities. When possible—and especially if you’re new to online instruction—it can be helpful to sit in on other instructors’ classes to get a better idea of what effective online classes look like and start thinking about the various ways in which you might promote collaboration among your own students.
By incorporating activities like these into collaboration strategies for students, instructors can promote greater connection and create quality learning programs that foster both academic and personal growth. Online learning and collaboration doesn’t have to be messy or isolating—leveraging digital collaboration tools, you can keep students aligned and working toward successful outcomes.
Online Collaboration Tools for Students
The bottom line is that having access to the right online collaboration tools for students is paramount to effective online learning — and being able to effectively facilitate collaboration among students online will make or break your students’ level of engagement. As the popularity of online learning continues to rise, choosing technology that is inclusive of different learners’ styles (think accessibility, multimedia, ease of use) and purposefully designed to build social connection is more important than ever.
There are many different types of collaboration tools for online learning, so no matter what your specific needs, you should be able to find collaboration apps to enhance your teaching strategy. However, some institutions rely on a variety of disconnected online collaborative learning tools, many of which aren’t fully integrated with the LMS — creating additional barriers for instructors and students and making it more difficult to take full advantage of a tool’s capability.
Harmonize’s collaborative online learning tools are designed to create a better online learning experience for students. They include:
Discussion boards where students can come together to discuss course-related topics
Q&A forums for students to interact with instructors
Video, text and image annotation that allows instructors to leave feedback on images, videos and documents
Multimedia capabilities that allow students to express themselves in the ways that work best for them
Chat functionality for real-time interactions
Polls for gathering feedback and gauge student progress
In addition, Harmonize offers auto-grading, auto-captioning, and more. The platform enables students to get the most out of their digital learning experience. As an instructor, you can use Harmonize to monitor student interactions and ensure that course material is being applied effectively. Harmonize goes a step beyond traditional collaboration tools and makes it easy for users to access all online classroom collaboration tools in a centralized app that integrates with the LMS. This streamlines the online teaching and learning process–saving instructors time, eliminating manual tasks, and improving student engagement.