Topic 5 How to design collaborative learning activities

Learning design aims at providing teachers with a framework capable to bridge the gap between rich, descriptive models and technologies, and the everyday practice and understanding of teachers. It has the potential to go beyond the learning content creation itself and proceed to the “process” of education.

This process has several components, namely metadata, roles, plays, acts, environment, role-parts, sequence of activities and conditions.

Source: Figure 1. The basic structure of the learning-design (adapted from [20])

From Learning Design to Learning Activity issue

There is no single definition of a learning activity concept. A learning activity is “a specific interaction of learner(s) with other(s) using specific tools and resources, orientated towards specific outcomes”. Following this definition, an outline for a learning activity is presented in the figure:

Source: H. Beethan, “An approach to learning activity design”

The four components comprise the following elements:

1- Learner(s): This component combines identities (preferences, needs, motivations), competences (skills, knowledge, abilities) and roles (approaches and modes of participation).

2- Learning Environment: The focus are available tools, resources and services. Virtual or face-to-face mode are considered.

3- Learning outcomes: It comprises new knowledge, academic and social skills, and abilities.

4- Other(s). Other people involved and the specific role they play in the interaction, e.g. support, mediate, challenge and guide.

3 Collaborative Learning Activities Success Factors

Research in the area has concluded that there are indeed some factors that can determine the success of collaborative Learning activities. These are the following:

1- Group composition
The composition of your online group seems to be the number one determinant for the success of your collaborative activities. Although, heterogeneous groups can contribute in many ways to the success of an online collaborative group, latest research has demonstrated that the more homogeneous a collaborative learning group is, the more effective it is.

2- Near vs. far transfer assignments
Transfer of learning refers to the way past experiences interfere in and affect the learning process. Near transfer involves the application of knowledge to similar settings. As far as near transfer is concerned, research has demonstrated mixed results, as for activities that involve drill practice, mnemonic techniques, memorization of information, etc, a more controlled learning environment is usually required. On the contrary, activities that focus on far transfer take for granted that the first step, that is near transfer, has already been achieved.

3- Unlimited vs. Constrained time.
Another factor that has an impact on the success of this approach is time. In your instructional design phase, always keep in mind that collaborative learning activities always take longer than individual assignments, as you cannot estimate the time they need for completion. Facilitators need to set specific deadlines in order for collaborative learning activities to be completed.

Write down a list of learning activities that you usually choose during teaching.

As an adult educator you should reflect on:

  • what learning activities do I use?
  • how do I choose learning activities?

Learning activities in digital environments

A digital learning environment sets new characteristics in the learning process.