Topic 3, Collaborative Learning and Topic 4, Mobile and Flexible Learning

Brindley et al addressed collaborative learning and outlined ten factors for success. Interestingly, being graded for collaboration wasn’t one of them. The following are the main factors that matter:

Clarity of expectations, instructions, a task that is suitable for group work, a task that is meaningful (example linking theory to practice and prior knowledge), learners who are ready for group work, timing of group work, learner autonomy, monitoring and feedback, sufficient time for the task.

Successful groups need to be supported for the duration of the teamwork project. This typically is the role of a facilitator, who can monitor, encourage and guide the group and individual members of it. Close observation of the group’s work and approach to the task and to each other should mean that any issues can be nipped in the bud. This support can be scaffolded to be more intense during the ‘start up’ phase of teamwork, but some groups or individuals may need more support at different points. Motivation may dip over time and sometimes, if starting a project is hard, finishing it can be just as challenging.

Some discussion may be beneficial in terms of what to expect as part of a collaborative learning group. This is where clear expectations and instructions can help. If everyone has a clear and common understanding of what they are expected to do, they may be more confident about starting, maintaining momentum and finishing their project.

Certain skills may need to be taught in order for the group to succeed. These skills may vary depending on the individuals, their prior knowledge and the task at hand. Digital literacies, intercultural communication and understanding team dynamics are just some skills that may be beneficial to the group and its individual members.

Course design has an important role to play too, in terms of the type of tasks that are given, when in the course life cycle they appear, the degree of learner autonomy and personalisation that is possible and the amount of time allocated for the work. It should be noted that some learners may need additional time, including those with dyslexia, those who are working in an unfamiliar language or with unfamiliar technology, or those whose external commitments mean that study time has been temporarily squeezed.

During the mobile and flexible learning lesson (topic 4), Alastair Creelman discussed his 2012 research into completion rates in MOOCs and interestingly, many of the same predictors of success appeared there too. Course design, especially in terms of connecting with others through peer review or synchronous meetings were vitally important, as were scaffolding and clear guidelines. Autonomy appeared too, more linked to course design and the VLE this time, but the ability to access material and record evidence of learning in a variety of formats was highly valued by participants.


Given this weight of evidence for MOOCs, flexible courses and collaboration in general, wouldn’t it make sense for educators to be trained in course design, in embedding support and feedback and in encouraging collaboration in the classroom?


In English, there are many idioms that convey the notion of interdependence, but perhaps the most evocative of them all is ‘no man is an island’. By virtue of our human condition, we need each other for support and for the creation of meaning.

Collaborative Learning – No Man is an Island