Guest Contributor:  Kristopher M. Carilli, Account Executive, ConnectYard.

Part Two of a Two-Part Series. Read Part One, Collaborative Learning: Leveraging Social Learning Sites, here.

The development and expansion of a new class of sites, Social Learning Sites (SLS), has enabled learners and their instructors to realize the benefits of the social web in academia. SLS provide the ability to expand one’s network by rapidly creating contacts to people, as with traditional social networking sites (SNS). In addition, SLS follow best practices for encouraging improved student learning outcomes and persistence to graduation. Decades of research on undergraduate learning has distilled several key principles which improve student learning. As cited in Part One of this two-part series, many of these principles are currently leveraged by learning communities and account for their success on university campuses:

  • Encouraging interaction between faculty and students
  • Developing cooperation among students
  • Encouraging active learning
  • Emphasizing time on task
  • Facilitating student integration on campus

Facilitating Collaborative Learning

SLS can be a key enabler of student achievement. Much like living-learning centers, which extend the learning environment into where students physically live, SLS are also able to extend the learning environment into where students live virtually (e.g. Facebook). When Dr. Wade Boykin, Professor of Developmental Psychology at Howard University, was initiating a new collaborative learning project that targeted students in STEM disciplines, he looked for an SLS to support the program. Specifically, Dr. Boykin needed a solution that facilitated the formation of study groups and the sharing of information through popular social media and also provided the following features:

  1. Ability to leverage Facebook direct messaging, allowing messages to be passed to Facebook through without having to “friend” individuals. Participants could then keep important personal details hidden from study partners, students, or faculty. This privacy helps to facilitate student-student and student-faculty communication through preferred communication channels – Facebook;
  2. A suite of tools including asynchronous wall posts and discussion boards, announcements — to enable remote cooperation, collaboration, active learning, and sharing — and analytic capabilities;
  3. Extensive notifications for important events via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, text messaging and email.


In order to improve student learning, colleges and universities are increasingly relying on collaborative learning strategies that feature small study groups.  These strategies have been shown to improve student academic performance and increase student’s integration into campus life. The social web has provided a host of tools that can support these strategies. The ability to leverage chat, walls, and boards, while simultaneously facilitating connections with study partners, are in consonance with collaborative learning strategies. SLS extend the learning environment into where students live and socialize and better connect them with the academic resources they need to excel in their classes. Their effectiveness in facilitating virtual living learning communities should assist in the continued adoption of collaborative learning strategies at additional colleges and universities.

ConnectYard is a member of the Cengage Learning MindShare Alliance. The ConnectYard SLS technology is embedded within the MindTap family of products, via a MindApp.

Do you have tips and techniques to offer in the area of collaborative learning? Please share your suggestions using the comments section below.