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What is Collaborative Online Learning?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Collaborative online learning is, essentially, just what it sounds like it should be: a process of learning that is collaborative in nature and that utilizes the Internet. While collaborative learning is by no means new, nor is online learning, the melding of the two into a system in which a group of learners come together on the Internet to learn can be somewhat unusual or experimental. There is a wide array of tools and utilities that can be used online to facilitate this type of learning. Collaborative online learning usually involves one or more instructors and one or more students, all working together to generate understanding and ensure learning.

As a form of e-learning, collaborative online learning has certain drawbacks that can make it a bit difficult to facilitate, but it may be more effective than many other types of e-learning. One of the major potential flaws with this type of learning is the importance it places upon the collaborative elements of learning and knowledge acquisition. The students, or those looking to learn, must work together to generate real meaning and learning from the process, and this means that the methods involved with collaborative online learning will not work for every student.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

For those students who are naturally inclined to benefit from social interaction while learning, however, collaborative online learning can be quite productive. One of the major flaws inherent in some forms of e-learning is the loss of the classroom environment and the opportunities for organic learning that classrooms often provide. By utilizing various online utilities, a virtual classroom can be created in which students exchange ideas and work together to create meaning and understanding. These tools can include chat rooms, discussion forums, instant messaging programs, and audio or video conferencing utilities that can all improve the learning experience.

Collaborative online learning can be organized and utilized by a teacher for use with an online class, but it can also be created simply by those interested in learning. Any group of two or more people who communicate online and work together to help each other learn and create meaning to facilitate learning can be considered a collaborative online learning group. This is one of the major benefits of such learning; it does not necessarily require a teacher to lead this type of program. Instead, people may come together to form an online community dedicated to learning or understanding certain ideas, and work together to accomplish this goal.

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Discussion Comments


Many times when my daughter was taking online classes at college, the students in that online class would get together and study. This was a great help for those who had the time and struggled with online learning.

In a situation like this, I don't think it matters if you collaborate online or get together in person - I think the interaction helps stimulate learning. Sometimes when you take online classes you feel like you are out there all by yourself, and it is nice to get together with other students for questions and help.


I have participated in a collaborative online learning class and found that I enjoyed it very much. I learn better when there is some type of interaction and found this much more enjoyable than traditional online learning where you don't have the interaction.

If you are not used to learning on line, it can be challenging at first. My son has completed much of his college education online, but there are still classes that he prefers to have in a classroom. Math is not his best subject, so any class that was about math, he decided to take in the classroom.

Collaborative online learning would be another option for these type of classes - especially if you live in an area that is too far to commute to the classroom.

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