Networked collaborated learning – a good, but hard, way to learn.

This course is my first and only time where I have used online collaborative learning, and it has made me think about several aspects of networked problem based learning (PBL).

First of all; learning in a group is a challenge for all students for several reasons:

  • Getting to know the other individuals in the group, noth on a personal and professional level, to know each others strengths and weaknesses.
  • Coming from different backgrounds and thereby bringing different levels of knowledge to solve the task.
  • Differences in motivation and contribution to the task at hand.

Figure 1 . Students’ sources of frustration in online CSCL. 

As presented by Capdeferro Planes (2012), we see that committment imbalance is a large problem. This is the same both for IRL and online PBL and as a teacher, it is hard to solve this problem. I think that the use of facilitators, as we have in ONL162, is a possible solution to the problem. The facilitator can assist the group in talking to the person that isn’t committed and thereby reduce some of the tension in the group.

When taking group learning to the online world, this can become harder due to time differences, different languages spoken and differences in tech savviness. On the other hand, it’s easier to get together (people don’t have to leave their homes), meeting times can be more flexible (as long as there is good internet connection), and getting along can be easier when not having to meet people face to face.

Despite its drawbacks, learning to work in a group is very important since most jobs require that a person can work in a team and often not with collaborators that the person choses him or herself. Therefore, we as teachers need to allow our students to practice this. Especially using online tools since this is something that most workplaces use or will start to use. In addition, PBL promotes deep learning (Biggs, 1999), since the student not only reads, but also discusses, tests new ideas, solves problems etc. This was shown by Garrison and Cleveland-Innes in 2005, where collaboration between group members led to deep learning.

Designing an online course is not that different from designing a traditional course. It requires planning before and during the course, understanding the needs of the students, their prior knowledge and abilities, defining learning outcomes and ability to motivate the students to want to learn. I like Gilly Salmon’s five stage model when thinking about designing an online course as it takes into account both how the steps can be moderated and the technical support that is needed:


Additionally, it is important to consider the cognitive, social and teaching presence when designing the course (Garrison 2000). As educators, we need to identify how we can optimize each of these aspects to make any course, independent of where it takes place, the best it can be. If we can do this, we will motivate our students to commit and work hard and thereby learn more!


Garrison, Anderson and Archer. Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3): 87-105, 2000. 

Salmon  G. The five stage model.

Biggs J. What the student does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development. 1999, 18 (1): 57-75.

Garrison DR, Cleveland-Innes M. Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction Is Not Enough . The American Journal of Distance Education. 2000: 19(3), 133–148

Capdeferro Planes N, Romero M. Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 2012, 13(2):26-44


4 thoughts on “Networked collaborated learning – a good, but hard, way to learn.

  1. karinskarma

    So interesting to read your blogpost about collaboration, Ellinor. I truly agree, collaboration and cooperation is not easy, neither in education nor in workshopen, but OH so fun an rewarding when it does work.


  2. mamascienceblog

    You capture my feelings very well! Collaboration is a challenge! I wonder how often collaborative efforts are truly successful.. I also know of many such efforts that have lead to the opposite..


  3. zaaronl

    I’m glad to read that you can see the need for us all to help students to learn how to collaborate in different ways, even if it´s a challenge! The committment imbalance is a large problem and it will always be a problem in a “blended”. Maybe this isn’t a problem that can be completely solved, but as you point out teachers/facilitators CAN help students with this! So keep on the good work Ellinor 🙂


  4. pawelkth

    Hi Ellinor
    Thank you for your comprehensive post. I must admit that I have also been exposed to the PBL practice for the first time and my feelings are rather mixed. I do agree with you that there might be communication problems, challenging imbalance of individual commitments or discrepancy in individual goals. What I would add to that list of challenges is a risky construct of the PBL approach, where you often address a new problem in the domain you may not necessarily be familiar with. If this is the case, partly what my impression of our ONL course has been, then I am really concerned about the nature of learning. I reckon it would not necessarily turn out to be a deep approach, as Biggs (1999) suggests. In this regard, a blended methodology supported with “teaching presence”, your pointed out, could be a way to make the most of PBL.



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