Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning 

For a start, in my mind, for collaborative learning to happen in a group, each of the participants must have something to offer that is related to either some knowledge of the topic under discussion or the knowledge on how to get the discussion going. Achieving the former is the purpose of the the existence of the group while the later is the support that is needed to work towards achieving the aim of the existence of the group.

In an online environment, the use of appropriate digital tools at different moments for different needs [1] during the course of the group discussion is important only because it supports the central purpose of the existence of the group. Apart from the choice of appropriate tools, other supporting skills include :- 
  1.     how to carry out successful discussions and interactions, 
  2.     how to encourage positive group dynamics, 
  3.     how to integrate all the thoughts from each participants cogently and 
  4.     drawing out take-away points. 
These are all learning moments as members of a learning community. 

At both of these levels, i.e. the support level and the discussion level, learning opportunities aplenty. 

At the support level, we learn may about new digital collaboration tools which others in the group may have learned through past group experiences and we learn to negotiate the social plane on how to have everyone in the group come to an agreement when decisions, small and big, are needed to move forward. Here is also where the “hidden curriculum” that was discussed with regard to the part on learning to socialize or learning to work with others towards a common goal and become better people at the end of it. 

This part of learning may be intentionally planned by the educator or facilitator of the course for the benefit of the participants but may not be as evident as the course content which the group is formed to work together on as deliverables for the course. The collaborative learning derived from this group exercises depends to some degree the composition of the group and to a larger degree the participants themselves individually. In a poorly performing group, the individual can observe and draw lessons as to why the group performed poorly and how he or she could contribute, lead or teach the other participants good practices learned from past experiences in group settings. This is a form of social learning that educators would like to see in their classes. 

At the discussion level, the learning tend to be focused on abstract ideas, sharing of past practices, expressing of doubts, skepticism, supports and gleanings from past observations. Here, through the exchange of ideas each participants learn new perspectives, get inspired, and form new opinions about the topic. Humans are incredible that by the making of certain sounds in a certain way, we can transmit complex ideas from our brain to somebody’s brain across the globe using digital tools connected to the Internet. The part that is most incredible is the forming of ideas and how one can be influenced by another human being. To me this is social learning fundamentally.

As community learning is encouraged, the power of group think or herd mentality cannot be ignored. Since we are social creatures and most would want to be accepted in a group, there has to be safe place for participants to express contrarian views without being judged or excluded. Patience is often required and the role of a objective and fair facilitator is important to create a open and welcoming space within that community. 

Unsurprisingly, contrarian or minority views which are well supported with reasons often are good learning moments for every participants. It helps remind us to keep that judgement door ajar. Keep an open mind is what we hear all the time but practiced much less. It takes time to build up convictions or perspective and it is a messy job to demolish old presuppositions to accommodate new ones.  
To end this blog, I thought it is of interest to gain another perspective on collaborative learning. This time from the world of management. This article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review seems to give a sense of balance to a work-obsessed society constantly connected to social media (a form of social collaboration, isn’t it?) and suggests that over doing the collaborative learning can be detrimental to the organization. 

Here is the gist of the paper which I copy and paste here for convenience. 
” With so many digital tools in the workplace, collaboration has gone omnichannel. Given how hyperconnected people are, the authors set out to explore the implications for organizations and teams. In their research, they discovered that always-on connectivity was good for fact finding and information sharing but not for problem-solving, as we tend to assume. For tasks that require imagination, it’s better to alternate between connectivity and quiet focus. Leaders must help establish a good rhythm.”

Extracted from [2]

Just like all the nice things in life, we shouldn’t have them constantly just because they are nice. 

Practicing a rhythm of sort not only enhances the value but also….

gives everyone a break from everyone…..


1. Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Athabasca University Press. Fig 3.1, Page 79

2. Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration September 3, 2019 | Jesse Shore, Ethan Bernstein, David Lazer | WORKPLACE, TEAMS, & CULTURE

Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning