Challenges & Advantages of Collaborative Learning

June 3, 2016 by Crescerance
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By: Gina Sansivero from SEEN Magazine

Collaborative or active learning is a methodology that transforms the traditional lecture or teacher-focused classroom into a student or learning-centered room. Students work together to help each other understand content, solve problems or create projects and products with the instructor working as a moderator or facilitator. Collaborative spaces in education trickled down from corporate “flex/open workspaces.” They were designed based on the understanding that interactivity and collaboration in small groups produces stronger solutions that would not have been reached individually. These spaces encourage trust building, communication, practical learning/application and enhances problem-solving skills.

To increase the effectiveness of a collaborative learning methodology, full integration of instructional technology into the curriculum and goals is essential. Simply using technology as a random complement to group work or classroom instruction is not enough. Technology must be incorporated as an integral part of the strategy for learning and can also be used as an evaluation tool to assess outcomes and comprehension. Purposefully developed active learning rooms encourage mental/intellectual, social and psychological development. This provides a foundation for mature interpersonal, problem solving and communication skills.

In conjunction with space design and supporting technologies, two more important pieces of educational re-development for teachers is instructional design and defining new classroom management strategies. A new classroom environment will assuredly require new strategies to maintain order and provide guidelines to create a well-run, dynamic and useful classroom.

A couple of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of collaboration and small group work spaces in K-12 and higher education is budget and instructor buy-in. Creating an outline of the type of collaborative learning spaces needed for the environment will help manage time and create a team of champions to spearhead the process. Consider these 7 points:


1.Portable or fixed installation: What is the environment? Allocated space in the library, oversized classroom, or a  computer lab? What are the intended uses for the space? Will the space be occupied by modular flex desks or fixed tables?

2.Durability: No questions here. Schools need durable equipment that will stand up to high use and the inquisitiveness of students and adults. Put the sleek, sexy equipment down. It probably isn’t right for your school.

3.Reliability and network: This basically comes down to determining if wireless or hard wired equipment is going to be considered. The arguments have been made for both from a technology standpoint.  Be sure to think about the school’s network, security and policies.

4.Power, connections and devices: Where will the power have to go? What type of connections are required? Will a technology team have to support multiple types of equipment and/or operating systems? Is this a BYOD or school issued devices only scenario?

5.Intuitiveness and training: How much time can be allocated to train the teachers and students on how to use the new space?

6.Team support: Is there a team in place that will help design the rooms, technology systems, and course structure that will lead to successful installations and student outcomes? Consider the stakeholders; administrators, instructors, technology managers, architects/designers, instructional designers and event students. Who will be the champion to provide support and enthusiasm?

7.Support for when things don’t work: Inevitably this happens. What type of trained staff does the school have for technology support? Will there be lengthy downtime for collaboration rooms if equipment goes down?

There are challenges associated with collaborative learning environments, specifically with creating and embracing a new environment and the methodology for learning/instruction. Challenges aside, arming the students with resources and skills to remain productive outside the classroom is the keystone of education. Collaborative learning has proven to encourage the improvement and maturation of a variety of skills necessary for future success in the work place. Supporting this progress helps to ensure that today’s students will be productive, effective and influential members of the future workforce.

Content originally appeared in SEEN Magazine Issue 18.1. See full article here.