Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is a social constructivist approach to learning. Activities generally involve a collective intellectual endeavour to understand and form new knowledge. Groups are typically made up of 2 or more students, sometimes including a staff member. They should be as diverse as possible, by both experience and demographic, equipping the group with differing perspectives (Michaelsen et al, 2008), knowledge and skills (Scager et al, 2016). Collaborative learning is learner-centred, normally requiring the teacher to take a facilitation role, guiding and directing students in the right direction (Scager et al, 2016). This signifies a departure from more traditional transmission of information approaches (Smith et al, 1993).

Designing collaborative learning activities can be challenging and often requires

“rethinking of our syllabus, in terms of course content and time allocation”

(Smith et all, 1993).

Using collaborative learning can often force tutors to ask fundamental questions about their learning designs such as; the volume of content covered, student performance monitoring, the requirement for prerequisite learning, how students might react, room logistics and staff resources (Cooper et al, 2000).

There are many specialist forms of collaborative learning such as:

  • Construction of a wiki or shared resource library.
  • Simulations.
  • Team based learning.
  • Small group learning.
  • Discussion activities.
  • Problem Based Learning.
  • Case study analysis.

In the classroom Collaborative learning will tend to use Active Learning techniques. This is often in the form of Flipped learning which may make use of iRat and tRat to ensure that students and groups are ready for the planned activities.

Resources and examples


  • Cooper, J., MacGregor, J., Smith, K. and Robinson, P. (2000). Implementing Small-Group Instruction: Insights from Successful Practitioners. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2000(81), pp.63-76. [Accessed 3 Feb. 2019].
  • Leigh Smith, B. and MacGregor, J. (1993). What is Collaborative Learning? [online] – [Accessed 4 Feb. 2019].
  • Michaelsen, L. and Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2008(116), pp.7-27.
    – [Accessed 6 Feb. 2019].
  • Scager, K., Boonstra, J., Peeters, T., Vulperhorst, J. and Wiegant, F. (2016). Collaborative Learning in Higher Education: Evoking Positive Interdependence. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), p.ar69.
    – [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].


Collaborative learning in higher education: lecturers’ practices and beliefs