Before ONL202 and this particular topic, I thought that I was collaborating many times during my life. First as a student, later as a researcher. However, after critically analyzing collaborative learning, I regret to inform myself that I was wrong. Usually we understand collaboration as an interaction between persons with a common goal, possible to achieve by completing some tasks, and each person is independently designing and conducting the task. This is cooperation not real collaboration. Collaborative learning (and working) is going beyond this, i.e. 1+1 is more than 2.

Collaborative learning promotes critical thinking, creates new ways of learning by social support, the diversity between people enriches the content and viewpoints, one can learn from each other and see with a different perspective, and also it increases the efficiency as we combine skills.

Real collaborative learning just happened to me during the ONL202 course. My own thinking was challenged, and I moved forward that fast that I could not even follow and reach myself. I can share my own experience and explain how someone as skeptical as me, embraced collaborative learning. We were discussing collaborative learning in our PBL group (Group 4) and someone said “it should be easier for us (than regular students) to engage with this course and to collaborate, as we voluntarily enrolled in the course”. Not in my case! This course is mandatory for me to fulfill several hours of pedagogical courses in my new job. I was warmly encouraged to take the course. I must admit that I am not the best-equipped person for openly sharing own thoughts in new environments; I prefer to listen first, then digest everything and perhaps then, talk. I usually take a problem, read, think, re-think and propose something. However, brainstorming is not one of my outstanding strengths unless I feel confident with the subject. Clearly, discussing about open learning and pedagogical skills is not my field of knowledge, and thus this course defeated me from my foundations! I had to talk, share, have an opinion, work together in real time, create presentations, share again, comment, etc. During the first topic, I was quietly thinking “this will hurt a lot for a long time”. Nevertheless, one day, I was happily waiting for our meetings, eager to share, thinking and changing my previous thoughts, laughing and having lots of fun! I was truly engaged with the course, the group and the work!

How you really reach this stage? Is there any recipe we can follow to create a collaborative learning environment? Yes, I think there is.

Three virtues are essentially required to be successful. Life is a team sport and we need to switch from learning or working individually to do it collaboratively (Patrick Lencioni’s TED Talk). The three virtues are HUMILITY, HUNGER and SMART. Humility is by far the most important one, self-centered people are seeking for attention and not easy to engage with someone else’s viewpoints. Hunger means the need for more, not just the minimum that is required but also an extra effort, which is undoubtedly related to achieving results. Finally, smart means the ability to effectively interact with people, to engage in conversations, to active listen. We need all of it to be able to collaborate and learn in communities.

In my experience, the group needs a purpose. It could be to discuss a topic, such as in our case, anything but clearly established. It is essential to build trust, to create a social culture for the group, to respect each other, to be honest and stick to the rules, and to have fun. We were complaining more than once, about the two weeks of getting to know each other. “We have presented to each other so many times and we are here to discuss open networked learning!” However, these introductory weeks created an amazing environment, we trust each other (even to delegate tasks that someone else started), we listen to each other and we indeed learn together!

As a final reflection. Collaborative learning works! But it requires to build trust, to engage with the purpose and the group and then, learning is a natural consequence.


  • Photocredits: Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash
  • 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). Available here.
  • Laal, M., Ghodsi, S. M. (2012). Benefits of collaborative learning. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 486-490.
Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning