Collaborative Learning: A Way to Transform Learning and Instruction in Online Courses

Collaborative Learning: A Way to Transform Learning and Instruction in Online Courses

Hong Zhan (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch027
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This chapter describes a study of collaborative learning in undergraduate online courses. Three classes containing a different degree of collaboration (no-collaboration, low-collaboration, and high-collaboration) were comparatively investigated by observing scores in online tests, paper assignments, and online discussion. The study found that classes with collaborative activities achieved higher scores in learning. Based on this result and the perspectives obtained from interviews with the instructor and students on collaborative learning, this chapter suggests that in online learning environments, collaborative learning tasks must be optimized; meanwhile, flexibility in online learning must be fully considered.
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With the proliferation of online education since the 1990s, online educators have developed various instructional models, principles, and strategies to increase the quality of online education. Each of these developed models is supported by learning theories or pedagogical approaches. For instance, Taxonomy of Education Objectives (Bloom, 1956) has been widely adopted in online course design and instruction. With the paradigm shift from teaching to learning, online educators have advocated that collaborative learning is “one of the most promising pedagogical approaches for distance learning” (Bernard, Rubalcava, & St-Pierre, 2000) because collaboration among learners encourages active, constructive, reflective, and transformative learning.

In virtual learning environments, the positive effect of collaborative learning is also evident in promoting critical thinking skills, co-creation of knowledge, and reflection and transformative learning in which students take more responsibility for their own learning (Gilbert & Driscoll, 2002; Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Uribe, Klein, & Sullivan, 2003). Because of these advantages, collaborative learning “is now an accepted, and often the preferred, instructional procedures at all levels of education” (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2007).

However, current online instructional practice with collaborative approaches has not been thoroughly investigated in comparison with a non-collaborative approach concurrently implemented in the same educational setting. Without simultaneous observation of learning process and outcomes in individual conditions where different degree of collaboration takes place, the studies may not be fully demonstrate that collaborative learning could lead to higher learning outcomes.

The experimental study presented in this chapter attempts to bridge the gap in current research by looking into online learning outcomes when the collaboration is implemented in different conditions: no-collaboration, low-collaboration and a high-collaboration.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning/E-learning/Distance Learning: Formal and academic learning conducted on the Internet via an online course management system such as WebCT Vista 4.

Online Learning Satisfaction: Student feelings and perceptions regarding their online learning experience.

Learner-learner Online Interaction: Interaction between one learner and another learner, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor ( Moore, 1989 , p. 4)

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Both asynchronous and synchronous communication conducted through communication tools embedded in online learning management system WebCT Vista 4. Specifically, the WebCT Vista 4 communication tools include email, bulletin board, chat room, and whiteboard.

Online Collaborative Learning: An educational approach that emphasizes active and collective efforts of participation and interaction of both students and the instructor/teaching assistants primarily by communication via the Internet.

Content Learning Outcomes: Student learning achievements in understanding and applying the course content as observed through scores on exams, paper assignments, and discussion.

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