Essential Design Features of Online Collaborative Learning

Essential Design Features of Online Collaborative Learning

Hyo-Jeong So (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), Wei-Ying Lim (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) and Jennifer Yeo (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-672-8.ch014
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With the goal of working towards a paradigm shift from delivery-centered to participation-centered pedagogy in mind, this chapter presents a set of essential design features that readers need to consider for designing online collaborative learning environments. Meaningful interaction and collaboration in online environments need the consideration of design elements as well as the understanding of the affordances of interactive learning technologies. This chapter presents a 3-dimensional design activity - social structures, tools, and learner diversity - as the fundamental elements that educators and instructional designers need to consider. It is important to note that the combination of these essential features is not prescriptive, but rather, is situational dependent on the learning context to achieve the “goodness of fit” for the desired learning outcomes. To demonstrate the design and enactment of the 3-D design features, the authors present a case example of a problem-centered learning environment designed for secondary learners’ science learning. In conclusion, the authors suggest that while the pedagogical advantages of collaborative learning have been well-supported, more research is needed to better understand the complex nature of designing collaborative learning in online settings, especially through the mediation of emerging technologies such as Web 2.0 technology tools.
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One of the prominent trends in K-12 education, higher education and corporate training is the adoption of online learning to complement traditional forms of learning conducted in bounded physical settings. For the past several years, the population of online learners and online courses has been growing substantially (Allen & Seaman, 2007, p. 68; Downes, 2005). It is not uncommon to find schools and institutions offering online or blended types of courses to extend learning opportunities beyond classrooms. Further, the recent advances of wireless mobile technologies and social software tools based on Web 2.0 technologies provide new possibilities to design seamless learning spaces cutting across formal and informal settings (Hemmi, Bayne, & Landt, 2009; Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007). Now, learning at anytime and anyplace seems more possible with such emerging technologies that maximize mobility, connectivity, and versatility.

Despite the increasing adoption of learning technologies, however, pedagogical changes in online learning have been slow, as seen in online courses focusing on content delivery and tutorial based instruction. Simply turning classroom lectures into online learning formats do not necessarily provide learners with the opportunities for rich interactions arising from engagement in activities that make learning experiences meaningful. Instead, it is important to have deep understandings of how people learn as well as what new technology can provide for the successful design of technology-integrated learning environments (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2002).

To overcome problems underlying current content-driven practices, a paradigm shift from delivery-centered to participation-centered approach is needed. Beyond downloading learning materials and files, learners should engage in meaningful activities with their peers to develop 21st century learning skills, such as solving ill-structured problems, expressing critical thinking skills, working effectively in teams, adopting diverse perspectives, and creating meaningful content. Towards this paradigm shift, this chapter presents a set of essential design features that readers need to consider for designing collaborative learning activities in online environments.

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