Friday, June 16, 2006


Clive Shepherd posted this in favour of collaborative online learning.

He makes a valid point regarding the relevance of formal learning materials:

"It's becoming ever more clear to me that formal learning materials - interactive self-study materials, papers, etc. provided by so-called experts - are increasingly peripheral to the process of online learning, and in many cases could be unnecessary. Students can and do find the information that they need using Google and by calling on each other's help and experience. What they come up with is far more precious than a piece of CBT or a handout because it is their own."
For me, one of the biggest downsides to online learning has always been the isolation. This is not a problem for workflow learning, but can become quite demoralising when working to achieve an extended series of specific outcomes in pursuit of accreditation. The collaborative approach has the potential to address this to some extent. However, from my own experience, working on a document in collaboration with others does not necessarily require genuine contact between the contributors, and may not address the isolation at all. Using a tool like Writely, I can access a collaborative document and make changes without ever discussing the matter with other contributors. There is the danger that it takes on a serial nature, rather than true collaboration. And in this situation, it is not only likely but almost inevitable that one contributor will take the lead role, while the contributions of others may vary considerably. Far better would be if the learners were able to video conference, Skype or IM one another as they worked, forming a cohesive approach to the output, so that the result is a true hearts-and-minds collaboration. I think this might also go some way towards addressing some of the weaknesses of the approach that Clive mentions in that it would require scheduling on the part of the collaborators and would even out the distribution of input.

1 comment:

Tony Karrer said...


Thanks for pointing me to your post from my post. In case anyone runs across our conversation - my comments on this topic are at:
eLearning Collaborative Online Assignments.

I agree with your observations and I've also seen where synchronous collaboration or at least near synchronous (lots of back and forth over a short period of time) provides a much better opportunity for real collaboration. The problem is that often there is a lot of trouble getting that to happen in even small groups. So, we end up with slower collaboration which means its serial and almost not collaborative at all.

I've got to believe that there are some ways to improve collaboration (in concert with self-paced learning) even if we can't get synchronous collaboration.