Collaborative learning is an integral part of university teachers’ work, but also one of the 21st century working life skills that we are trying to teach our students. However, as we all know some learning communities work better than others. While this topic was really interesting and there would be so much to say, I want to focus on two key aspects in this post: diversity and motivation.

Last week I ran into a post in LinkedIn from my old work place Tampere University. It was essentially about a research project examining the use of AI in matching experts in the best possible way. The thought that caught my attention and got me thinking was this quote from Peter Olsson: “Twitter and other social media currently often provide the users with followee recommendations who are either celebrities or people with whom you have similar interests or some sort of weak tie. But if we really wanted to learn new things and get new ideas, we should communicate with people who are quite different from us.” (Hyvärinen, 2019). Should learning communities then consist of people who are very different from each other? I don’t think there is a straightforward answer to this question and it really depends on the goal! In general, I believe that diversity is good as like-minded people tend to look at things the same way (and with them collaboration is usually easy) , so diversity can enrich the communication and exchange of ideas. However, diversity can also hinder progress in collaborative projects. For example, if the idea is to collaboratively put together a course, opposing pedagogical views of the participants can create discussion but possibly lead to a compromised outcome that no one is really happy with.

Another area that I found intriguing in this topic was the role of motivation in collaborative learning, especially in cases where the collaborative learning takes place on compulsory courses. From personal experience of teaching online courses for over 10 years, I can say that many students struggle with the idea of collaborative learning especially in online courses. I have heard the phrase “What do you mean there is collaborative work on this course, this is an online course!” countless times. As Brindley, Walte and Blaschkey (2009) noted ” Online learners who seek flexibility in their study situations can view participation in group learning as an impediment to their progress and often balk at or at best tolerate collaborative learning situations imposed by course design.” Capdeferro & Romero (2012) examined students frustrations with collaborative learning experiences and found that these frustrations stem from many sources ranging from unequal participation to quality of work. Therefore, finding a way to mitigate these frustrations and motivate students is really the key.

Whereas teachers are often internally motivated when engaging in collaborative learning networks, students often engage in collaborative learning tasks on courses which are compulsory. Thus, collaboration is “forced” and the student cannot choose whether they want to participate or not. Therefore, many students may not be internally motivated (although some of course always are). Then how do we as teacher externally motivate students towards collaborative learning and prevent these situations from coming another frustrating experience? I would say that it all starts with communication: without communication, there is no collaboration. Students need to communicate their expectations and goals and establish “team rules”. Another element is of course fair grading and using a variety of assessment methods, assessing both the product and the process. The teacher must also remember his/her role as the facilitator. You cannot just give students a collaborative learning task and wait for the outcome. It is important for the teacher to be there to facilitate the process and intervene when necessary. And perhaps most importantly, we also need to remind students (and even ourselves!) that collaborative learning tasks are also experiences in learning to collaborate and constructing knowledge collaboratively. It is not only about the outcome but also about the process. By engaging in the process itself, we learn more about collaboration and about ourselves.


Brindley, Waltey & Blaschke (2009). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment.

Capdeferro & Romero (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?

Hyvärinen, Hanna (2019). Stop Looking for a unicorn. AI could help find the right colleague. Available at

Scott, Cynthia (2015). The Futures of Learning 2: What kind of learning for the 21st century. UNESCO Education, Research and Foresight: Working papers. Available at

Diversity and Motivation in Collaborative Learning