Collaboration (image source: Pixabay)

I have learnt to appreciate the approach and philosophy found in problem-based learning (PBL) as a facilitator in face-to-face problem-based learning group at the Medical School of Linköping University. The PBL philosophy is inspired by Socrate’s “maïeutic” (from the Ancient Greek μαιευτικός (maieutikós) where the purpose was that the knowledge that emerges in the exchange of views between the students should promote the ability to critically review and obtain knowledge and promote deep learning. There were several components that were present but most importantly the fact that by brainstorming there was a metacognitive process perspective achieved during these meetings.

At the same time that I was learning how to learn online collaborative learning in the ONL course, I had the opportunity to experience as a facilitator how this PBL translated in digital world with the same group of students. The reflection I have up to know is that the digital groups works but they requires even more than in face-to-face settings a good preparation 1) really clear explanations ex-ante for the students before the collaborative meeting takes place, and 2) a real debriefing ex-post of what was done and how it was done (reflective phase on learning). Provided that this is well prepared collaborative online learning, and scaffolding are valid strategies for supporting the intellectual knowledge and skills of learners. This implies that learning can happen in students when we promote curiosity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaborative learning in both digital and face-to-face settings in consistency with the socio-cultural theory of learning (Vygotsky). In both settings high level collaborative skills can be achieved at the condition that students are motivated. This condition might be even more important in the digital setting than in face-to-face groups because in digital settings a student can hide himself more easily or disconnect from the meeting. This is why it might be even more important in the digital learning groups for students to make as a support for their learning in the base group work a document that is called Individual written preparation to base group meetings or Individual base group preparation (IBU, acronym of the Swedish version).

Digital learning has the advantages of access, and if it is well done inclusiveness and quality and it is a learning way that offers many possibilities. Sharing, flexibility both geographic and in time (synchronous via chat or asynchronous communication) allows an agility in collaboration in community of learner that are positive aspects to this collaborative online learning. An other advantage is that our students are “digital natives” and have a high level of digital literacy.

However the technology is necessary for the e-learning to lead to his goals, but it is not enough. A challenge is keeping focus on learning and not only in digital tools. A condition to a successful implementation is a thorough preparation of this approach and answer well the questions: Why? Who?, How? And When? We still need to communicate to our community of learners in a social learning place that promote high level quality of the human relations in our digital meetings in order to collaborate effectively an not only cooperate (Brindley).

Ref: Vygotsky L.S. (1980): Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press.

Ref: 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).

ONL Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning