Dr. Jože Rugelj, Assoc.Prof.
University of Ljubljana
Faculty of Education
The theoretical foundation for collaborative learning
is social constructivism.
One foundational premise in SC is that children
actively construct their knowledge rather than simply
absorbing ideas spoken at them by teachers.
They assimilate new information to simple, pre-
existing notions and modify their understanding in the
light of new data.
Instruction in this context is a process of supporting
that construction rather than communicating
Most SC models stress the need for collaboration
One Vygotskian notion, that has significant
implications for peer collaboration, is that of the 'Zone
of Proximal Development.'
ZPD is defined as "the distance between the actual
developmental level as determined by independent problem
solving and the level of potential development as determined
through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978),-
Through a process of 'scaffolding' a learner can be extended
beyond the limitations of physical maturation to the extent that
the "the development process lags behind the learning process".
The broadest definition of 'collaborative learning' is that it is a
situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn
two or more may be interpreted as a pair, a small group, a class, a
community, a society and all intermediate levels.
learn something may be interpreted as "follow a course", "study
course material", "perform learning activities such as problem
solving", "learn from lifelong work practice", ....
together may be interpreted as different forms of interaction:
face-to-face or computer-mediated, synchronous or not, frequent
in time or not,
Intuitively, a situation is termed 'collaborative' if peers are
more or less at the same level, can perform the same actions,
have a common goal and work together.
The second criterion is that one generally expects collaborating
partners to have common goals.
The third criterion concerns the degree of division of labour
among group members. Collaboration and cooperation are
used distinctively according the degree of division of labour. In
cooperation, partners split the work, solve sub-tasks
individually and then assemble the partial results into the final
output. In collaboration, partners do the work 'together'.
Shared knowledge is fundamentally constructed
through collaboration between persons.
Different forms of interaction – that can be extended
in time and space by various media and ICT tools –
are the means by which people both collaboratively
construct beliefs and meanings, and state differences
Psychological, social and cultural processes within
groups of collaborating people are the key factors in
determining whether ICT tools will be accepted and
Collaboration that is mediated by ICT may proceed
synchronously or asynchronously.
Another distinction concerns implicit versus explicit
communication. The former refers to collaboration
through use of shared information resources, such as
documents, images and spreadsheets, whilst the latter
is explicit communication among collaborators using
audio and/or video channels, or just simple text
Appropriate communication media need to be
selected for collaborative knowledge construction .
Factors that affect the selection:
characteristics of a task;
availability of telematics tools to all members of the group;
intended period of interaction;
inertia involved in switching to more appropriate media;
the ability to extend interaction in time and space.
Factors which contribute to richness are:
interactivity (the speed of reaction)
multiple cues (verbal, intonation, proxemic, and kinetic)
language-variety (numbers, natural language, symbols, images)
socio-emotional cues (social presence, feelings)
ICT software tools for explicit communication:
Conferencing system: questions for tutor, other
participants, or experts, answers to questions, open
discussions (moderated), informal chat.
Internet Relay Chat, MUD(Multi-User Dimensions)
Low-cost desktop A/V conferencing tools: CU-
SeeMe or NetMeeting conferencing tool, ISDN
ICT software tools for implicit communication:
Shared workspace (BSCW)
Shared use of software tools (word processor,
spredsheets, graphical editor)
Learning management system
Learning content management system
Developments in ICT are starting to make it possible to use the
tools for assisting the process of learning beyond the
boundaries of the classroom.
In addition, their use will start to prepare learners for
participation in a networked, information society where
knowledge is the most critical resource for personal, social and
School children and students increasingly need to
acquire the individual and the group learning skills for
use in learning societies and learning organisations.
They need to acquire the skills that enable them to
cope with an abundance of information in order to
build knowledge and thus learn from the knowledge
Computer-supported collaborative learning requires
teachers and students to adopt an educational
philosophy that focuses on “knowledge building”
rather than “knowledge reproduction” as the main
This requires both teachers and students to believe
in and trust a learning style that involves active,
self-regulated, constructive and contextualised
learning by groups of students more or less
However, not every student or teacher is used to this
way of learning and for many it was not easy to learn
together with other students. In addition, it is not easy
to integrate this new educational philosophy with
existing philosophies in schools.
Although other research has shown that co-operative
learning is effective, if students have common goals
and interests combined with individual accountability,
in reality, it hardly occurs within existing school
ICT support does add value by:
The easier organisation in the classroom of collaborative
Better visibility of collaboration processes involving of all
Making communication patterns visible and structuring
types of communication.
Making types of thinking visible and organising enquiry-
Learning to build knowledge and meaning collectively.
Building connections with practice; and opening new forms
of collaboration with other classrooms, schools, nations,
and other partners like museums and universities.
Teachers and students do like to work through computer
supported collaborative learning, but it is not easy to
integrate new didactical practices into existing curricula.
International exchanges seem to have a positive effect on the
motivation of both students and teachers.
Teachers do not have the time for support or preparation of
assignments and questions for use within a computer
supported collaborative learning.
There are not enough didactical materials, or examples of
good practice to help them fulfil their new roles.
Various positive effects can be found in computer
supported collaborative learning environments :
There is relatively consistent evidence of students showing
more interest in collaborative learning.
The practises of learning and instruction change
Students work in a more self-regulating way.
The amount and quality of social interaction between
teachers and students increase.
Students develop skills for using information technology
and basic knowledge acquisition. They learn to access
extended sources of information and motivation increase.
There are significant advantages in using CSCL in
mathematics and languages, and in process-oriented
measures like the quality of question raised and depth of
The suitability of the software is critical to CSCL.
There is no evidence that multimedia elements have
pedagogical value without carefully planned instructional
strategies and adequately educated teachers.
Unlike the scientific communities, practising teachers
do not consider highly the role of CSCL within future
learning environments. This is partly due to its
novelty, but also highlights that the theoretical and
practical principles of computer-supported
collaborative learning are too immature to be adopted
as practical educational reforms.
Nevertheless, a form of CSCL would be the most
desired way to implement desired changes in
educational practises like changing the educational
philosophy of teachers and students.
There is a need for theoretically well-grounded development of
CSCL practises and tools that are embedded in a practical
Effective infrastructures need to be established to ensure
computer and computer networks are optimally utilised.
Specialist IT technicians should be responsible for maintenance
to enable teachers to concentrate on teaching.
Any technology needs to be adaptable to the instructional needs
of teachers and to the daily realities of classroom life.
Support is also needed for the creation of electronic
communities for teachers, which can aid the development of
new learning methods and help establish learning communities.
To effectively implement computer-supported
collaborative learning in schools, financial support is
Adequate teacher training.
Extra hours for teachers to design assignments and
Computers and software.
School libraries needs to become multimedia centres,
central to schools in order to promote individual
learning and small group work with librarians trained
to be guides and tutors in the search for information
Teachers also need training to develop technical
expertise and know-how and to learn to be more
effective guides and tutors.
Opening schools to activities beyond school time
could facilitate the participation of Institutions in the
Educational research and the policy of national
school institutions must be integrated as current
research is artificially constructed and results in
outcomes that scarcely affect changes.