The theory of collaborative online learning: what it is and what it proposes

A summary of the theory of collaborative online learning, proposed by educators from Write my paper 4 me.

There is no doubt that new technologies have been occupying an increasingly important space in academic contexts, especially this last year. Having an Internet connection has become a requirement in order to have access to knowledge at practically any level of education.

However, contrary to what many may think, using digital resources for the simple fact of using them does not offer advantages by itself. It is necessary that they know how to use them properly, especially the discussion forums which can be a great tool to facilitate the construction of new knowledge.

Next, we will explain in detail the theory of collaborative online learning , a constructivist proposal that highlights the importance of asynchronous communication and the sharing of the points of view of the students and the teacher when acquiring and creating new knowledge.

What is online collaborative learning theory?

The theory of collaborative online learning is a proposal from constructivist currents on how to enhance the learning capacity of students using new technologies , especially from discussion forums as tools for the construction of knowledge. It is the result of the combination of properly constructivist perspectives together with the today omnipresent Internet, which has become a great ally of learning if it is properly used.

Originally this model was called that of computer-mediated communication (CMC) or network learning, although with the passage of time Linda Marie Harasim, a key figure in this theory, ended up giving it the name of online collaborative learning theory or CLT. This learning model is based on various theories of cognitive development , especially those that focus on conversational learning, the development of academic knowledge and its active construction.

This theory provides a learning model in which students are encouraged to work together, acquiring and creating knowledge through the advantages offered by new technologies. In this way, students can collaborate to invent, explore ways to innovate and, in this way, seek the conceptual knowledge necessary to solve all kinds of new problems instead of reciting a single correct answer alternative as is usually the norm in models. more classical educational programs, both in person and with the use of digital resources.

Although from the approach of online collaborative learning theory, students are invited to be active and committed to their learning, this action alone is not considered sufficient to allow learning to take place effectively or for the construction of the learning to take place. knowledge fully. Within this approach the teacher plays a key role not as a partner-student, but exercising the role of what he really is, the bridge or link of the students towards the community and formation of knowledge.

The learning activities must be explicit and oriented, making clear what are the disciplinary rules that must be followed in the virtual space. In addition, from this approach, emphasis is placed on the participation and discourse of the students, actions that allow to establish the theoretical-practical knowledge acquired in the classroom or from the compulsory readings but in a much more thoughtful and meaningful way.

One of the main advantages of the Internet and, especially, the discussion forums that can be opened in the academic virtual space, is that it allows the construction of knowledge gradually and without depending on physical space or time . A discussion forum is a space in which participants can speak, collaborate and discuss asynchronously, that is, being able to issue responses after a long time but without them being lost, which allows the discussion to restart at the moment that is desired.

In fact, online discussion forums are fundamental within the theory of collaborative online learning , since unlike the debates in face-to-face seminars or in lifelong master classes, they have the following characteristics:

  • They are based on writing and not orality
  • Asynchronous: participants can enter at any time and place, without missing what has been discussed previously.
  • They can be organized in "threads", that is, they can attach responses to a comment, and in turn counter-responses to those same responses.

Steps to build knowledge

Within its own model, Harasim places special emphasis on the importance of three phases that turn out to be fundamental when it comes to building knowledge collaboratively and making use of office resources. These three steps are as follows.

1. Generation of ideas

The first step in the construction of collaborative knowledge is brainstorming or brainstorming . Students, either in the framework of group work or in an online discussion, present various ideas, expose their divergent thoughts in a group or show their concerns about a topic or about something they have seen on the class agenda.

2. Organization of ideas

The next step is to organize all the creative and free thinking that has gone into brainstorming. The students put in common those ideas that have arisen in the previous phase, comparing them, analyzing them and classifying them to gradually structure the group work or make them join different positions or “sides” in the course of the online discussion.

3. Intellectual convergence

Finally, the moment of intellectual convergence arrives, this is to reach a level of synthesis of what has been commented in the course of the discussion , understand each other and reach a consensus on the subject of group work or on the different aspects that have been commented on in the online discussion. You can also mention the points of agreement and disagreement and guide them towards the joint construction of a project or final work.

Once these three steps have been taken, what Harasim calls the "Final Position" occurs. It is not really a position that ends the discussion or puts an end to the proposal of new ideas, nor does it stop the construction of new knowledge. The student, once the process of generation, organization and convergence of ideas has started, continues to assimilate different contents at an increasingly deep and advanced level.

The role of the teacher throughout the process and also at the end of it is essential. Not only should it facilitate online collaboration between all parties and give them those resources that it considers most appropriate for them to have creative ideas or to form an opinion about different topics, but also the teacher acts as a representative of the expert community, although not in an authoritarian sense , who has the knowledge that he wants to share and transmit to his students. The importance of online forums

A fundamental aspect of online forums in digitized courses is that they are not mere complements to basic teaching materials such as books, recorded lectures or links in the recommended bibliography. Within the theory of collaborative online learning, these forums acquire a fundamental role since it is through them that the three steps mentioned above are actually carried out.

Unlike in traditional courses, here the textbooks, compulsory and optional readings and other resources that are presented to students are chosen to support and motivate the discussion, not the other way around . This is a key principle in the design of online resources from this perspective and, in fact, many teachers do not comply with it when digitizing their subject, complaining that they have enabled a section for discussion but none of their students seem to be motivated to contribute to it.

This is because, despite being digitized, many of these courses are still done from a traditional perspective, in which what acquires the most weight is the pure content, that is, the required reading. These readings are the priority in the mind of the student, who sees the discussion forums as something rather secondary, something they will do if they have time and feel like it. Regardless of whether participation in these forums raises the mark, there are rather few students who try to participate with an interesting debate.

For this reason, those educators who enable an online course and want their students to build knowledge through discussion should design the course in such a way that participation in the forum has a direct impact on grades , in addition to encouraging reflective participation. It should be ensured that the students dedicate a certain reflection to what they share in the forum, since it is not the extrinsic activity that counts, that is to say, simply commenting, but its intrinsic value, this is what they are writing, it is a new input or an answer.

Requirements to promote collaborative online learning

In order for online collaborative learning to occur, especially through discussion forums, the comments posted in Moodle must be organized and monitored by the teacher, who must also provide the necessary support to students to facilitate the development of new ideas and the construction of knowledge. Thus, these are some aspects that should be taken into account when designing and managing a digital course.

1. Appropriate technology

Ideally, the course software allows you to manage the discussion threads, since, as we have already mentioned, it is ideal that subtopics can be presented in the same entry and generate threads of answers and counter answers.

2. Clear patterns of behavior

It should be specified which are the behavior guidelines allowed in the course of discussions and other collaborative digital spaces. Although it is not given in person, it is still in an academic context in which certain etiquette codes must be followed when interacting with other classmates and the teacher.

An appropriate tone must be established, the way in which to relate to others must be made explicit, accept and discuss agreements and disagreements with respect and tolerance and solidly argue what is shared in the forum. In addition, it is essential that it is specified how many times a week students must participate in the forum and what is considered meaningful participation.

3. Technological orientation

No matter how technologically advanced the course is, it will be of absolutely no use if students do not know how to use it. Many teachers spend time, effort and money creating very sophisticated courses but when it comes down to it they become very uncomfortable to use because the students have not learned to use them properly.

Although the students are probably digital natives, the use of many digital resources is not as instinctive as it might seem, causing even the most expert user of digital resources to not understand very well how to use them. This is why it is essential to put a video or guide somewhere in the digital course explaining how to handle resources.

4. Clear objectives

If the professor presents a topic to be discussed in the forums, it must be clear and its purpose must be specified. You can present a topic that does not appear in the books but that is related in one way or another and that is interesting for the students.

For example, a biology professor can open the debate on transgenic organisms after having explained what these types of living beings are. In this way, you can ask the students to state their opinions on the ethics of their use, if they know of cases of transgenics that have been dangerous to health or, otherwise, if they have a therapeutic purpose and in what context.

5. Monitor individual participation

As is often the case in any digital resource of this type, there will be students who will participate more than others , including those who end up dominating the discussion and others who do not dare to contribute. This is why the teacher must monitor individual participation, knowing who is not contributing and inviting them in an attractive way to express their opinions, concerns or if they know of something interesting that could benefit the rest.

Advantages and disadvantages of the model

One point that differentiates this model from the more classic ones is its use of new technologies . In the more traditional computers, Moodle or mail are computer resources used basically to replace some of the activities traditionally carried out by teachers in the classroom. For example, instead of explaining the lesson in class by explaining it in detail, the virtual course allows you to post a presentation and wait for the students to read and understand it on their own.

This is not at all shared by online collaborative learning theory. Although there will be compulsory readings that students will have to read on their own, it is the interaction between the teacher and the students and also between them that makes significant learning occur and new knowledge is built. Virtual resources should not be a substitute for what would be done in a face-to-face classroom, but should expand and facilitate learning. Students reflect on what they have seen in class, discussing and internalizing it as they present their points of view.

However, not all are advantages for this model. To begin with, it is not possible for all students to participate if the class group is very large , and it is not recommended to exceed 8-10 people. In addition, the teacher will be required to be aware of who participates and who does not, something that the larger the group the less viable it will be, in addition to the fact that there will come a time when although the students want to participate, the topic of the debate has already been completely exhausted. .

Finally, there are disciplines that can hardly be adapted to this educational system, especially the pure sciences, computer science and engineering , while it would be applicable in fields of knowledge such as the humanities, social sciences, education and areas of business and health. The reason for this is that the latter disciplines are more debatable, in the sense that not everything is black and white and more particular points of view can be exposed.