We have all taken part in groupwork at some point in our lives. Whereas we tend to have a nose for recognizing very easily if our collaboration with others is not smooth – whether there are some aspects that fall short, or whether there is someone who does not contribute as much as the others – what does not always occur to us while on the job is this: are we merely cooperating and putting the required pieces together, or are we developing our thinking and skills in a more profound manner? Many studies argue that we should strive for the latter to make the most of it (e.g. Brindley et al., 2009).

Collaborative learning is an experience that can change your perceptions and core beliefs. Some years ago, I applied and was enrolled in the study programme in education at the University of Jyväskylä, namely pedagogical studies in adult education (a.k.a. APO studies). During the first weeks I was skeptical about the approach of experiential learning – most of the time was spent on discussing, mulling and reflecting without much content to work on. However, I quite soon realized that this ride will literally change everything I’ve ever felt about teaching. It was a turning-point for me. The learning process entailed thought-provoking lectures, observation and training periods, reading circles and writing a learning journal, but most importantly, hours and hours of meetings in small groups (8 learners + a facilitator).

Those groups became our “home communities” in which we were forced to stop, have profound discussions and challenge our perceptions – with, and not against, each other. We inquired into pedagogics together and grew wiser. I could never call it cooperation, as it was so much more. Through all this, I developed a mindset that still guides all my teaching today. I learnt to know who I am as a teacher and what is it I want to convey to my students: I believe, more than anything, that learning should be a good experience that connects not only theories and concepts but also people. To me, experiential learning (see e.g. Cherry for introduction) and connectivism (e.g. Siemens, 2005) go hand-in-hand.

What role can Personal Learning Networks (PNL) play in learning?

What I ended up with after the study programme was a network of people with whom I can still talk about teaching, generate ideas or just have occasional coffee with. People who became my friends through the experience of learning together. Although there are also more targeted ways of expanding professional networks and developing our PLNs, such as by using social media (Dron & Anderson, 2014), my journey for developing collaborative relationships has so far been somewhat more accidental. It has also been the kind for which I am forever grateful. Hopefully, the ONL202 experience will lead to something similar.

To conclude, experience can be a strong, intrinsic motivator for learning, and as teachers we should look beyond means and instead light the fire to truly collaborate. To do this, because the beauty of collaborative learning (or why not collaborative teaching too) is to embrace…

“two (or more) aspects of social fabric which have different effects on learning potential.”

Wenger et al., 2011


Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Cherry, K. (2020). The Experiential Learning Theory of David Kolb. []

Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Athabasca University Press. 

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism:  Learning theory for the digital age.  International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), January 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2008, from

Wenger, E., Trayner, B. & M.F. de laat (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework.

Are we being collaborative, or rather just cooperative? – Towards promoting collaborative thinking and learning experience