11 Ways to Achieve Efficient Collaborative Learning Environment

There are numerous studies that point out to the fact that the environments built on collaborative learning accomplish better learning outcomes and the information that is attained in collaborative sessions is retained for a longer time.

This is attributable to the fact that people learn better when there is a room for discussion, evaluation of other ideas and exchanges. It is the long-term memory which comes into play through discussions.

While discussing collaborative learning, Vygotsky’s idea of “zone of proximal development” is highly relevant.

Basically, the idea stresses on the importance of intellectual proximity between peers and their mutual cognitive familiarity, i.e. it emphasizes on the robust interface and its role in learning. It forces us to re-evaluate our conceptions of a classroom and the relationships between the co-learners.

Following are 11 valuable strategies to build a really collaborative classroom

1.Establishing and assigning of goals for the group

For a collaboration to be fruitful, goals have to be defined and respected by the members. The responsibility and accountability of individuals is also important. There should be no ambiguity in purpose.

2. Assigning group roles

For an assignment that has to be accomplished collaboratively, it is really efficient to assign roles to the members of the group. This ascertains methodical learning and as the communication is open, the roles do not restrict the ones playing them from learning the entire process and understanding others’ viewpoints. The roles can be revolved as the class progresses.

3. Collaborative Assessment and knowing the baseline

Collaborative assessment can be practiced simultaneously with individual assessment. A pre and post-test scenario building is also important to know clearly how the group has learned while doing the assessment exercise. The assessment stimulates learning and motivates the group to work at its best, and it also helps the instructor in knowing the efficiency of the group.

4. Evaluate the learning process while assessing

If students are also graded for the quality of discussion and collaboration, besides the end result, the collaboration reaches a new level. The engagement levels are evaluated besides adherence to group norms. This type of assessment gives impetus to learning of group behaviour and team work.

5. Organize the group and maximize interaction

The assignment of roles is a way to an efficient group, as discussed earlier. The other thing that should go parallel is the continuity of interaction for the group to function at its best.  For the interaction to be vibrant there should be functions, both task-specific and general functions which include initiation of discussion, summarization, countering the narrative (devil’s advocacy), researching, consensus building.

6. Bring in relatable and real world problems

The theoretical rigor is important but the clarity of concepts can be achieved better by bringing in the instances from real life. When the discussion is open ended it is engaging and relatable issues can make it much more engaging. Theoretical and artificial problems can eat into the enthusiasm of the group and therefore they can be kept at a bare minimum.

7. Concentrate on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of the group

Assignment should be designed in a way that they invite diverse viewpoints and critical evaluation of the subject takes place within the group.Problems should be introduced that require categorization, planning, evaluating multiple perspectives, or forming solutions.

For problem-solving, a procedure should be followed with Identification of the objective, setting of goals, gathering of data , coming up with different course of actions or options, use data to evaluate the options, reaching a decision and implementation.

8. Diversify the group composition

It must be seen that the group is diverse with respect to the intelligences, aptitudes, talents, backgrounds and learning styles. If the group has a diverse composition then it is beneficial for low performers. Group rotation should be practiced to let the students collaborate with different sets.

9. Incorporate different learning scenarios

It has been found that reasoning capabilities of the group members is enhanced in rich contexts. The different scenarios can be arranged if the assignments are set in laboratories besides classrooms. Contexts can be changed by forming study teams and organizing different activities likedebates, writing projects, problem-solving, and collaborative writing.

10. Incorporate technology

Collaborative learning can be effected in remote setting and online situations. The efficacy of digital collaborative exercises have been found comparable to the ones that take place in the in person scenarios. Online shared whiteboard space, Google groups can be used to for conducting exchanges.

11. Marginalize ‘group think‘

Outcomes of collaborative exercise can seriously get compromised if ‘group think’ comes to dominate the group.  This implies that the critical thinking and continual inquiry is overridden by the feeling of harmony within the group. Personal interaction gives way to empathy and it can be an asset, on the other hand, it can be retarding as well.

This challenge can be met by changing the group and rotating the roles.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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