The value of collaborative learning is widely recognized because of its positive effects on social, cognitive, and metacognitive development. One advantage of collaborative learning is that it provides students opportunities for self-reflection and joint construction of knowledge. Furthermore, the collaborative learning environment frequently leads to higher levels of task-related interaction and behavior (Schoor & Bannert, 2012).
Despite the potential benefits of collaborative learning, not all collaborative learning activities are successful. Providing students with opportunities to work together will not ensure achievement or knowledge enhancement (Barron, 2003) and a great deal of research has been conducted to discover the factors that will provide the best opportunity for a positive collaborative learning environment. Some of the factors that have been found to have a significant impact on the quality of the collaboration include the quality of the interactions (Volet, Summers, & Thurman, 2009), the type of task on which the group worked (Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2002), and unresolved contradictions that eventually drove group members to work independently (Howe, 2009).
Due to the popularity and growing number of online courses offered, the quality of these online courses and programs are an important concern in education (Norton & Hathaway, 2008). Some negative online experiences, perceived by students as weaknesses of online learning, have been the result of delayed feedback or responses from online instructors (Durrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006) a lack of student self-regulation and self-motivation; a sense of isolation, monotonous instructional methods (Xie, Durrington, & Yen, 2011); and poorly-designed assignments (Hedberg, 2003).
Britto (2002) investigated faculty intentions and student perceptions associated with the pedagogical dimensions of a Course Management System (CMS) and found that faculty perceived the benefits of teaching a course using a CMS primarily pertained to the convenience and efficiency of course administration and management. Conversely, students expressed frustration that their instructors did not utilize the online tools available through the CMS to support their learning. Other studies reporting student frustrations with online learning environments cited factors such as confusion about online instructions, failure to get prompt feedback from their instructors, and persistent technical problems (Vonderwell, 2003). Interestingly, only one of those is directly attributable to an CMS. One possible contributing factor to the frustrations expressed by students is that faculty members rarely have sufficient time to design courses for an online environment, so they fall back on using the technology to reproduce the instructional elements of their traditional courses (Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2004). Since a collaborative learning environment is an effective means of accelerating knowledge construction, studies should begin to focus on identifying the conditions under which a collaborative learning environment can be effective in an online environment.