Topic 3. Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

The question posted in the third topic of ONL162 was: is 1+1=2 or can the sum be more that it´s individual parts? The scenario also challenged us to think about what collaboration actually is. 

In this course we are all well educated adults, and the assignments we take on for each topic are not our first assignments, by far, a lot of us are actually used to design and hand out assignments to students. What struck me the most in the discussion that we had in our PBL8 group was the issue of distinguishing between; working on separate parts of an assignment and then piece these parts together to complete the task vs. working and contributing to all of the parts of the assignment together to complete the task- i.e. actually collaborate. Below is a quote from Dillenbourg proposing a broad definition of collaborative learning while also breaking the definition down into different elements displaying the complexity of collaboration as a phenomenon.

“The broadest (but unsatisfactory) definition of ‘collaborative learning’ is that it is a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together. Each element of this definition can be interpreted in different ways: • “two or more” may be interpreted as a pair, a small group (3-5 subjects), a class (20-30 subjects), a community (a few hundreds or thousands of people), a society (several thousands or millions of people)… and all intermediate levels. 2 • “learn something” may be interpreted as “follow a course”, “study course material”, “perform learning activities such as problem solving”, “learn from lifelong work practice”, …. • “together” may be interpreted as different forms of interaction: face-to-face or computermediated, synchronous or not, frequent in time or not, whether it is a truly joint effort or whether the labour is divided in a systematic way.” (Dillenbourg P. 1999) 

My interpretation of the last part of the text quoted above, is that Dillenbourg emphasizes that collaboration covers a wide spectrum of activities and approaches in this definition, from; taking individual ideas and contributions of group members piece them together and deciding that this is now the groups idea or input, which for me is not collaboration, even if it is a consensus decision, to; refining the input from one member of the group with the knowledge, experiences and ideas of the rest of the group. Once I got this straight I started to think about different collaborative learning tasks that I been involved in as a student, supervisor or teacher and realized that I would consider very few of them successful collaborations given what I know after working on this topic.

In a study by O’Neill et al. using a delphi survey to investigate factors that influence collaborative learning in distance education, the author´s identified 17 important factors covering a range of themes including course rationale and design, instructor characteristics, training, group dynamics, the development of a learning community and technology. This further highlights the challenge of creating learning activities that will lead to successful collaborations, especially in distance education.

In Topic 3 we in PBL8 realized that we did have a very good example of a online course that successfully made students collaborate by clever design, structure and contents- The ONL162 course! We therefore decided to investigate our own course and identify key features and elements that we felt would facilitate successful collaboration. This apporach gave me a framework that I will be able to use in the future when planing collaborative work in different settings.

So, my answer to the question, is 1+1=2 or can the sum be more that it´s individual parts? is yes, it should, if it is the result of a successful collaboration.



Dillenbourg P.  What do you mean by collaborative learning?. In P. Dillenbourg (Ed) Collaborative-learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches, 1999,pp.1-19, Oxford: Elsevier

O’Neill S, Scott M, Conboy K. A Delphi study on collaborative learning in distance education: The faculty perspective. British Journal of Educational Technology. 2011;42(6):939-49.







3 Comments Add yours

  1. Gizeh_ONL162 says:

    Indeed, I also think that we have to trust each other in order to collaborate. Don’t judge to much and let the control freakiness and prestige go 😀 Althout we must keep the critical way of thinking. It not about accepting anything but allowing an open discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  2. chilli2012 says:

    Thank you for an interesting post! I agree that we need to (re)define collaborative learning for it to become meaningful also in a distance course. The whole idea should be to make it more than its parts.


  3. I agree Linda! And I think we as PBL8 have done a pretty good job of collaborating in the course 🙂


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