Scenario: “So often when we ask students to collaborate, they see it as merely a way of distributing the workload, and not as an opportunity to build and consolidate their collaborative skills. They fall into old ways of working in groups where the task is divided and individuals complete their part individually, only really coming together at the end to bring it all together. I would like to design a learning opportunity that not only gets my students working together collaboratively, but which also influences their capacity for collaboration beyond the course. How can I get people to really recognize the value of becoming part of a learning community and experience the benefits of social learning?”

Starting from the scenario given above, we initially had some questions such as “What is social learning and where does social learning take place?” If curriculum itself all the matters, why do we require our children to go to school? Why is “schooling” important? The book [1] mentions the hidden curriculum of higher education which requires the existence of a community and it teaches learners to act as experts and professionals and to play the educational game effectively. In other words, members of a community actively learn from each other while interacting. Getting inspired by those, in our group PBL4, we focused on 2 what benefits or disadvantages do we derive from social/collaborative learning, how do we foster social learning, and for whom?

Before going deep in social learning, it would be better to define social forms and their characteristics and hopefully try to understand how they are related to social learning. Major contributions to understanding those forms belong to Doreen Tan. If you’re interested in learning more about them, I highly suggest visiting <her blog>. Here, I just wanted to reflect on those concepts from my view and found it interesting to share them in this blog, since they were also new to me.

A collective can be categorized as Group, Nets, or Sets depending on the purpose of knowledge and how familiar the members are. Groups are very formal gatherings of people, the object of knowledge is already known and the goal is directed. Like formal courses, such as students gather in a class for a particular course. Nets are great for just-in-time learning, expose us to serendipity and change, and exploit social capital. In that case, you don’t need to commit yourself, but you know whom to contact when needed. Sets are very informal but most probably the most useful. When we are seeking knowledge, we don’t know where we can ask or whom to ask. Sets are the most non-organized kind of collectives. Twitter is really a good example for sets. You can ask something by tweeting with appropriate hashtags, and someone that normally you don’t know can answer you. If you’re interested in more, you can read [2].

Let’s now assume that we have Groups collective and investigate the interaction levels. Learner-learner interactions in an e-learning course can be categorized into 4 stages:

  • Communication: people “talking”, discussing
  • Collaboration: people sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment
  • Cooperation: people doing things together but each with his/her own purpose
  • Community: people striving for a common purpose

This is the order of increasing interaction level. It’s mostly observed that typical e-learning interaction can achieve in most first steps with communication and collaboration.

So, how can we foster social learning? These are some instructional strategies to increase the likelihood of student participation as proposed in [3]:

  1. Facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills: Students need to be taught the necessary skills for effective online collaboration, particularly those skills that will help them succeed in a group environment, such as planning and negotiation skills.
  2. Establish a healthy balance between structure (clarity of task) and learner autonomy (flexibility of task): The instructor should provide guidelines for team member performance in conducting the group project and ensure that the task is achievable, sustainable, and properly timed within the course
  3. Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community: Instructors can model, discuss, and reinforce the elements of establishing the sense of community such as honesty, openness, dialogue, empathy, trust, authenticity, disclosure, diverse opinions, etc.
  4. Monitor group activities actively and closely: the instructor needs to be available for feedback, and be ready to intervene as required to keep discussions on track
  5. Make the group task relevant for the learner: It’s important since the more interested a student is in a group topic, the more motivated the student is in participating in the collaborative effort.
  6. Choose tasks that are best performed by a group: Instead of individual tasks, engaging in tasks that benefit from teamwork will increase their motivation to participate.
  7. Provide sufficient time: Collaborative learning activities may need more time than individual studies such as scheduling, planning, and organizing. Most importantly, discussions and exchanging ideas. Course design should allow sufficient time for them.

Despite best efforts in course design and those instructional strategies to increase the likelihood of participation, the failure can still occur due to several effects. Here we list some of them which can be considered exclusively:

  • Students may not have enough time to participate in the group due to their busy lives, which is especially in the case of adult learners.
  • The roles in the group affect the performance, so unique personalities, learning styles, and different levels of skills can conflict. And for sure, unexpected events can kill the harmony in the group.
  • In some cases, students who are assigned a group project without an adequate level of readiness and/or guidance may be the main reason for failure.
  • The accessibility of technology to individual members may not be the same and it can be critical in the group interactions.
  • Lastly, the most effective learning is transformative we know but especially adult learners may have anxiety over the gap between old thinking and new knowledge or tools.

Working on this scenario allowed me to learn different concepts, terminologies, and perspectives as I tried to reflect on this blog. This was an output of PBL4 group work discussions that you can reach in this Miro board <here>. Finally, we also prepared a nice Canva presentation, which you can reach from <here>. I suggest watching the presentation with the background music on, it’s so relaxing.


[1] – Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press.

[2] – Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Athabasca University Press.

[3] – Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

One Response to “Reflection on Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning”

  1. Oksana

    I highly appreciate you discussing the levels/stages of learner-learner interactions in an e-learning course. This understanding makes us more proactive and effective in designing online courses. Therefore, I am grateful to you for highlighting these peculiarities. Thank you for outlining instructional strategies to increase the likelihood of student participation. This issue is rather hot and 100% relevant for every conscientious teacher.


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