Collaborative learning has been slowly on the rise, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put it in the spotlight as more organizations and schools go remote. Though life will go back to normal post-pandemic, technology has undoubtedly made a lasting impact on how we live and learn.
One thing that is certain to continue long after the pandemic passes is online collaborative learning. While passive remote learning practices have been widely panned, thoughtfully planned peer learning is likely to be the future of online education.
The emergence of peer learning is excellent for both instructors and learners. Data tells us some of the benefits of collaborative learning include higher-performing students and more engaging lessons. Here are four of the most significant benefits of collaborative learning and the science behind them.
Improved Knowledge Retention
The National Autonomous University of Mexico studied second-year medical students’ grades and found learners are more likely to retain information when consuming training materials in a collaborative learning environment.
Simply giving students or employees the information they need isn’t enough. Learning doesn’t occur unless the information is preserved and applied by learners in the future. Without that, classes are just busywork.
In the University of Mexico study, grades were “significantly higher,” suggesting “that the collaborative approach to teaching allowed a more effective understanding of course content, which meant an improved capacity for retention of human physiology knowledge.”
Like the University of Mexico study, Dartmouth College also found strong evidence for enhanced knowledge retention via collaboration. In the study, students who tutored other students had a better understanding of and a positive attitude towards the material. Improved knowledge retention makes for more confident and empowered learners who can become better teachers themselves.
Another way to tap into this benefit is through the peer-review process. Students or co-workers can submit their work and review their peers’ submissions. They benefit not just from a nuanced critique of their work but also from the retention-enhancing effects of performing a comprehensive knowledge-based assessment of their peers’ work.
Development of Higher-Level Thinking Skills
Collaborative learning promotes higher-level thinking.
One analysis of STEM classroom instruction found that students who learned via traditional passive lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail than those who participated via more active methods. Researchers asked students to cite the reason for their poor performance. “Difficulty with the subject matter” was a frequent answer.
Collaborative learning can help students who are struggling to understand learning materials. For example, discussion boards can create a safe place for students to ask and answer each other’s questions. These discussions encourage deep collaborative learning and enrich the learning process. For many, these discussions could be more exciting or easier to understand than the course material you’ve laid out for them.
While many learners think they understand the information after a single presentation, their understanding is superficial. Collaborative learning requires them to access lower-level learning functions like recall and repetition but also higher-level ones like evaluation and creation. In the course of collaborative learning, students must apply concepts to new situations, assess other students’ understanding, and use the material to solve problems in conjunction with their peers. In addition to strengthening their mastery over the material, they enhance their critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.
Stronger Ownership Over Assignments
Studies have found that collaborative peer learning boosts individual accountability in an educational setting. In collaborative environments, students are more motivated to do their part because others are also directly impacted by their performance.
One study, published in the Journal of Technology Education, found that students who studied for a critical-thinking test in a collaborative learning environment performed significantly better than those who studied individually. Their grade was based on two components: how well they performed separately and how well their study group performed. Students were motivated not just to do their work well for their own benefit but also for the benefit of the entire group.
Successful collaborative learning has an element of positive interdependence — the idea that our wins or losses are shared. According to one study, “when members clearly understand positive interdependence, they understand that each group member’s efforts are required for success of the group.”
You can create a community of peer-driven learning and development that also provides accountability at the individual level. This sense of belonging to an organization or team makes individuals realize their impact on the larger group.
Along the way, learners also pick up critical soft skills that are difficult to teach directly. Working together in a collaborative environment requires a more advanced skill set than merely taking a course does. As people learn new concepts in a team-based environment, they inevitably develop higher-level thinking skills like communication, conflict resolution, and leadership. These are skills that translate well to any role.
Higher Course Completion Rates
Virtual learning is isolating — as opposed to a classroom or office environment, virtual learners often learn alone, interacting only with a computer. It’s impersonal and not engaging. Collaborative learning techniques are a logical way to combat this phenomenon and keep learners engaged, accountable, and on track for completion.
The isolation caused by remote learning can lead to depression, anxiety, or merely a lack of engagement with the course materials. All of these threaten course completion rates. It’s no surprise then that studies have shown that low completion rates in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are largely caused by unmotivated and disengaged learners.
As stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 have led to more virtual and self-directed learning and development, these challenges have become more prominent. It’s up to individual learners in their own homes to stay on task.
Collaborative environments combat some of the loneliness and isolation that come with a remote setup. Rather than learning in a silo, participants can lean on and help one another as they face obstacles along the way. This teamwork helps troubleshoot issues with using the course itself and promotes more in-depth learning in a group environment.
Leverage the Benefits of Collaborative Learning to Enhance Learner Performance
Collaborative learning has a ton of benefits for both instructors and learners, but it’s still nowhere near as popular an online model as passive lectures, videos, and quizzes. This is because, unlike passive learning, collaborative learning takes pre-planning and a thoughtful approach. You need to develop the right strategies to keep students engaged and the right tools to facilitate those activities.
You need a learning platform that can support collaborative activities like group work, peer review and discussion boards. Eduflow makes it easy to get started with collaborative learning. Sign up for a free account today to create engaging online learning experiences with ease.