Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
A Community of Practice is an informal social network created for the purpose of learning. However, for more formal elearning modules, the learners may need a more specific method of social learning. Both cooperative and collaboration learning promote such learning through the interaction of people.
Cooperative learning can be used in tutoring and coaching situations. The learners work in small groups (face-to-face or online) on an assigned project or problem under the guidance of a trainer or expert who monitors the groups, ensuring the learners are staying on task, and are coming up with the correct answers. It includes five basic elements:
- Individual Accountability - The learners work on a clear task with a group goal. All learners must make a contribution or the goal cannot be achieved.
- Positive Interdependence - The group is accountable for achieving its goals and each individual member is accountable for a particular, identifiable contribution.
- Face-To-Face interaction - Learners interact with each other face to face as part of the task. They discuss problems, explain their learning to each other, and tease out ideas. In online cooperative learning, the face-to-face part may be more discrete, for example, interacting with each other using e-mail.
- Social Skills - Groups skills such as attentive listening, questioning to clarify ideas, eliciting responses, or disagreeing in a constructive way are explicitly taught. Their development is not left to chance.
- Group Processing (Reflection) - Groups reflect on the cooperative learning skills they have used and consciously focus on developing their skills in working together
Collaborative Learning is quite similar to cooperative learning in that the learners work together in small teams to increase their chance of deeper learning. However, it is a more radical departure from cooperative learning in that there is not necessarily a known answer. For example, trying to determine the answer to "how effective is elearning?" would be collaborative learning as there are a wide ranges of possibilities to this question, depending upon the learners' perspectives. Because the collaboration sometimes results from less purposeful and focused activities, some of the learning will be unintentional or serendipitous.
The software used to allow people to interact over the internet is often called groupware, and more recently, social media. Collaboration occurs at the learners' convenience, as they work together, but do not need to be online at the same time. This is said to be asynchronous (not at the same time).
However, during a chat session or real time online discussion session, synchronous (at the same time) methods are used. The learners and trainers have to be signed on to the system at the same time. Their messages are sent to the other learners in real time and are meant to be replied to during the session.
Synchronous learning methods provide more of a face-to-face method of conversation (even though you may not be able to see each other), while asynchronous methods allow one the time to think and reflect on the conversation without feeling rushed.
Collaborative learning allows a process for revealing and using tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Unbeknownst to an individual who is able to express her tacit knowledge, her ideals may hold the key to a new approach or innovation for another individual or group. Only through group interaction does this tacit knowledge become useable. This is the power of groups — the ability to transfer learning. It is not always trainers who train, educators who educate, or gurus who gurunate, but the learners themselves who transfer their knowledge and skills so that others may learns.
Templates for Groups
Templating allows you to ensure the learners cover all the bases in the projects you assign. You can create templates (stationery files) and place them in a global shared folder, such as a wiki, that is accessible to the network of learners. The learner then work with that copy (adding and modifying) before saving it in an individual folder or shared workgroup folder. With templates, trainers can scaffold learning activities by moving the learners from simple to more-complex tasks in terms of technology use and the curricular material. For example, if you are training trainers to build a lesson plan, you could use a template similar to this one.