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

Part One of a Two-Part Series.

For the past two decades a transformation has been occurring in teaching and learning circles. There has been a transition from the traditional lecture centered model of instruction to one that emphasizes student discussions and active engagement with curriculum content. The term “collaborative learning” has been coined to describe strategies that support the latter model, including learning communities, virtual learning communities, and social learning sites (SLS). The rapid advance of information technology and the growing popularity of social networking sites have provided additional opportunities to support Collaborative Learning activities in academia. In today’s post, we’ll discuss learning communities and virtual learning communities. Next week’s post will cover social learning sites.

Collaborative Learning

“Collaborative learning” is an umbrella term that is used to describe a number of techniques whose goals are to improve student learning. Collaborative Learning is built on the beliefs that learning is an active process involving knowledge use and construction, and that learning is fundamentally a social process. In fact, Collaborative Learning can be defined as the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. Small groups are used to promote improved student engagement with the curricular material and improved cognitive activity. The teaming strategy promotes positive interdependence with its concomitant benefits of supportive relationships, higher psychological well being, and improved performance for the student. Teaming is also known to improve student engagement in the academic and social life of the institution.

Learning Communities

In light of the benefits associated with increased student engagement, many universities are moving to adopt learning communities. There are varied strategies for implementing learning communities including linked courses, freshman interest groups, clustered courses, or coordinated studies. The unifying theme among these approaches is that they involve co-registering students for courses and then having them work together in smaller study groups. The results of multiple studies have indicated that the shared learning environments offers a number of distinct advantages when compared to the traditional teacher centered approaches. These advantages include students spending more time engaged with faculty and other students and also committing more of their free time to academic activities. In addition, students in learning communities persist at a higher level than other students. Students in learning communities also become more involved in extracurricular activities. Lastly, students have described their learning in these communities as better.

To further realize benefits of the learning communities — increased social and academic integration and the increased immersion in academic pursuits — universities have acted to establish living-learning communities. Living learning communities move the learning environment to where students live by having student groups, or cohorts, share dormitory space, an approach that is being implemented at Cornell University.

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.

Next week: In Part Two of “Collaborative Learning: Leveraging Social Learning Sites,” we’ll discuss how SLS can help extend learning beyond the classroom.