The scenario for topic 3 began with the following sentence “Most people I’ve come across have a rather weak idea of what it really means to learn collaboratively”. While most would read this sentence in its entirety and delve straight into a discussion on how to facilitate well-functioning group work (don’t worry – I will circle back to that later in this post, because, spoiler alert, it’s all connected), my personal interest was sparked by the first part of the sentence: “Most people I’ve come across have a rather weak idea of what it really means to learn”.

Not since my days as a philosophy major, had I sat down to contemplate such big epistemological questions as: “what is knowledge?” or “what does it mean to learn”. The rationale for using a theory of learning as the point of departure for my reflections here is that if I can understand the most effective ways of learning, perhaps these principles would hold across many learning situations (face-to-face, online, blended, problem-based, etc.)

A brief look into the literature suggests that the old theories of learning (behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism) cannot fully capture the realities of modern life – life gone digital. This is because of the all-pervading role that technology has come to play in how society functions. Enter connectivism. Connectivism is a theory of learning that recognizes the impact of technology on society and knowledge creation. It posits that “learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage, and retrieval; rather, it relies on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems) and participation in communities of common interest, social networks, and group tasks” (Siemans, 2017).

Some key concepts jump out from this description:

· Interaction

· Participation

· Community

Well, those sound pretty synonymous with group work. And the learning that is being described here seems to be less about an outcome and more about a process. So we arrive back at our original question (now understanding why we should ask it): how can facilitators promote a shift towards student-led learning, that motivates students to widen their personal learning networks (Oddone, 2019), and collaborate effectively with their peers? Simply – How do we motivate and facilitate collaborative learning? Research suggests some key strategies (Brindley et al., 2009) many of which require implementation from the earliest moments of a course:

  • Align group members’ expectations BEFORE the course/project begins with regard to effort, prior knowledge, volume, and quality of work required.
  • Set the tone and “rules of the game” of the group.
  • Each group member should be aware of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Establish a strong sense of community amongst group members EARLY by sharing personal stories or using ice-breaker activities to foster trust among group members.
  • Showcase examples of success in learning in groups.
  • Design the group assignment to have a visible value for the learners’ future profession.
  • Set a clear and coherent assessment so that students do not perceive inequity in assessment amongst group members or as the course/task progresses.
  • Provide groups with a safe learning environment.
  • Provide technical support to students to aid communication with one another.
  • The facilitator should be proactive, making sure the group is collaborating and functioning well.
  • Provide appropriate time for the group to complete the task.

Now, where have I seen all of these strategies in action (I ask facetiously)? Why right here in ONL211.

Brindley, Jane, Lisa Marie Blaschke, and Christine Walti, ‘Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 2009,

Oddone, Kay, PLNs Theory and Practice, 2019 <> [accessed 12 May 2021]

Siemens, George, ‘Connectivism’, in Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology, 2017 [accessed 11 May 2021]

Teamwork makes the dream work (topic 3)