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Collaborative Learning Strategies for Students

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Collaborative learning found its roots back in the 1980s. Its conceptualisation was based on the idea that perhaps didactic learning, where a teacher lectures the class and the students work independently, might not be the best way. 

Researchers tested different methods, primarily placing students into small groups to collectively answer questions, put projects together, and share knowledge and techniques amongst themselves. To most readers, this will have been commonplace in their education and it’s hard to think that there was a time when teachers and classrooms weren’t doing this. 

Now, with the continued introduction of technology in the modern classroom combined with a professional need for people who work well in teams, students are being exposed to more and more collaborative learning strategies. In this article, we will share some of the best collaborative learning strategies for students.

Collaborative Learning Strategies for the Classroom

Tactical group selection

When asked to make groups, younger students will immediately gravitate towards their friends so that the activity will be more social and enjoyable. Older or more ambitious students are more likely to carefully select top-performers for their group. It’s typically best when the teacher chooses the groups, creating a more diverse line-up with different abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and levels of confidence. 

Selection should concern not only participants but overall group size. A large group might alienate introverted students, whereas a group that is too small might not have enough energy or creativity. From experience, 4-6 students are optimal, depending on the task. 

Encourage listening

As students mature and become more invested in their studies, they naturally become better at listening, seeking to absorb more information during their learning opportunities. Still, teachers can aid this journey by developing listening skills in their students, such as avoiding interruption, maintaining eye contact, and valuing the contribution of others.

Clear goals and clear roles

These are two things that any group project needs to define from the start. What is expected of the students through their roles, for example: Who will be the leader? Who will take notes? Who is there for motivation? Who does a final review? 

If the roles are not assigned, natural leaders will take control and this misses a big opportunity for personal development amongst those who could benefit from breaking out of their comfort zones. 

When it comes to assigning goals, they need to be clear and achievable, otherwise, the collaboration might just turn into idle chit-chat or suffer from lack of interest. Best-case scenario - all participants are pleased with their role and the objectives they need to meet.

Divide the overall task into groups

Here’s an idea. Rather than splitting the students into equal-sized groups and giving them all the same objective, why not break the overall task into smaller pieces and give each group one section to complete. This avoids plagiarism, unnecessary competition, and gives a more unique feel to the experience for each student. It also means that all groups and their work are important to the overall success of the class. Also, when grading the groups, groups can be evaluated on their own merit rather than as a comparison against others. 

Collaborative Learning Strategies for Online Students

While the above methods can be adapted to the online classroom, here are some strategies that work remarkably well in a virtual learning environment.

Use simulations based on real-world businesses

It’s our business to create immersive, interactive, and interesting online simulations for a large diversity of students, such as our business strategy games. We take practical ideas and market conditions from the real world and develop simulations that reflect realistic scenarios for students to make decisions in. Whether it's trying to market a video game console in a highly competitive market, or selling an FMCG product to a demanding buyer, students are faced with realistic business challenges that they must overcome. And of course, when the challenge at hand is relatable, students are known to take more ownership, accountability, and interest in their work. 

Students teach students

One way to create a great collaborative learning environment is to hand over power to the students and trust that they can study, absorb, and disseminate information in an effective way. Some call this the Jigsaw method. Put the students into groups of 4-6 and divide the learning material into an equal number of parts. Each student in the group must learn their part, do their research in the allotted time, and then teach it to the group. Then, as a group, they must create a presentation about their overall learnings for the benefit of the rest of the class.

All of this can be done just as easily online as it can in the classroom, thanks to breakout groups, independent online research, and 1-on-1 feedback sessions. Presentations can be done collectively through a number of online platforms, and testing can be done individually online too, to ensure the material has been learned. 

Students review students!

If students are capable of teaching one another, they are also capable of performing peer reviews. This is an effective way to provide each student with personalised feedback regardless of group size. 

Of course, students will need to commit to being fair and that can be best done with anonymity. Teachers should anonymously pair or group students and provide them with assessment guidelines and examples of constructive feedback. As the students learn to both give and receive feedback, they gain perspectives from their classmates that they might not receive from their educators. 

Anonymous submissions

Thanks to the anonymity of the internet and many educational tools, the most and least confident students are given equal opportunity to contribute. Rather than the most brazen students having the largest platform, anonymous submissions provide a fairer chance to be heard.

One way to do this is for educators to inform their students what the next session will be about, and ask them to generate ideas before it begins. Provide a way for them to anonymously submit their ideas, allowing them to participate even when they don’t feel confident speaking in front of a group. At the start of the session, or even beforehand, all students must read all of the submissions. This way, the educator knows which topics to cover, which questions to answer or themes to explore, and the whole class gains more knowledge as a result. The randomization of these contributions means that the ideas shared first are not discussed first, providing even more democratization of time.

The benefits of Collaborative Learning for students

Collaborative learning has numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased engagement

When students work together, they are more likely to be actively involved in the learning process, leading to higher levels of engagement.

  • Improved critical thinking

Collaborative learning allows students to engage in problem-solving and decision-making, helping them to develop critical thinking skills.

  • Enhanced communication

Working in groups promotes the development of effective communication skills as students learn to share ideas, negotiate, and provide feedback to one another.

  • Better understanding

When students work together, they are able to reinforce their understanding of the material by explaining it to others.

  • Increased motivation

Collaborative learning creates a supportive and inclusive learning environment, which can increase student motivation and sense of belonging.

Finding Opportunities for Collaborative Learning

For some educators, placing students into collaborative learning situations will come naturally, but for more traditional teachers, it can be hard to break the mould. Now, along with in-person learning, students and teachers have had to become accustomed to digital learning platforms, giving rise to new engagement and involvement challenges.

With careful planning, adequate resources, and the right technologies, collaborative learning can be the secret ingredient that empowers students to be their best selves. With the opportunities it presents, learners can break from their comfort zones and develop skills they never knew they had.

Leverage simulations to boost Collaborative Learning

Whether you are teaching in-person, online or in an blended format, using one of our business simulations in marketing, sales or innovation can help generate teamwork and enhance collaborative learning in your classroom. 

Get a business simulation demo