Collaborative learning is an approach to learning where people work together in a small group to accomplish a goal, ranging from memorizing nations and their capitals to learning how to use a software program. This method emphasizes shared experiences among the learners as a tool for developing skills on the part of all members of the group. It is used at many levels of education, and can involve people from a variety of backgrounds, with an assortment of knowledge levels.
In collaborative learning, learners are broken into small working groups to facilitate communication. Some may be paired, while others can work in configurations of three, four, or more, depending on the activity. A learning goal is typically set and the learners may be provided with a learning framework to use as they work with each other. The learners must teach each other as they progress through the learning experience, allowing people to learn by seeing, doing, and teaching all at the same time.
Studies on collaborative learning suggest that this kind of learning experience can be beneficial for participants at all levels. People with low skill levels benefit from thoughtful exploration of a learning task with people who have more experience, as all members of the group are accountable to each other, and they fail or succeed as a group. People who grasp the material well have an incentive to make sure everyone in the group understands it, and sharing experiences can help people present material in a way that will be accessible to other members of the group. Learning how to present information in a way less knowledgeable people can understand is also a useful like skill.
This learning format is applicable to a wide range of settings. In the classroom, people can engage in collaborative learning in face-to-face interactions and may have access to objects to manipulate, as well as other classroom resources. It can also take place in virtual environments, where people chat, video conference, and use other online communication tools for collaborative learning. Online learners can take advantage of Internet resources to find learning tools, ranging from more resources on the topic to learning guides to help them find a way to present information in useful and meaningful ways.
In addition to being an educational tool, collaborative learning is also used for socialization. Encouraging people to work together on a common task can promote the development of social skills and help people find ways to interact with individuals who may have different backgrounds, life experiences, and views on the world.