What Are The Advantage Of Collaborative Learning Online

Networking is in most people’s DNA. However, studying in a university setting has limits to networking.

Sometimes I think we’re only taking collaborative learning online because we have to have it to show to our teaching assistants. We’re competing with blended learning and MOOCs because that’s what we want to be. I also think we’re taking collaborative learning online because it was the “happiest” thing we could do to volunteer time, attend a virtual coffee-date, and chat online.

I’m quite sure that we are. The narrative of MOOCs is that everyone should have the opportunity to access it so that no one can be left behind. Maybe not. If the best way to achieve these goals is through what I just called collaborative learning, and especially if we can actually see the students’ engagement with the course content (or their reluctance to engage with it), I don’t know if we should be taking collaborative learning online. Collaborative learning is a model that is not the norm in education. Instead, we would be best off engaging with personalized learning (adaptive learning).

My first question about adaptive learning is, Can it really do anything? First, adaptive learning has been around for some time, so it’s not that experimental and revolutionary. Second, if adaptive learning is popular now, and it probably is, we should really be engaged with it and not just pretend that it’s the new frontier of this technology. Third, I’m not sure what the highest goals should be for adaptive learning. Yes, we need learners to use adaptive learning to get their expectations up, but is a test a measurement of effectiveness? It’s about ability — aptitude — not solely the ability to take a test. For example, an adaptive learning module has one fixed learning element and one variable variable that is dependent on the module. Regardless of that fixed learning element, one variable variable is designed to be associated with that fixed learning element. So, is the question really what is that variable, and, if so, how do you design a variable that is linked to a fixed learning element? It’s not as simple as this variable increases the application of the fixed learning element. Does the variable ensure that each student understands something about adaptive learning? What’s my view of what counts as learning in this scenario? I’m sure it would depend on what is motivating it, but for all that ease of use and tutoring as part of adaptive learning, is my assessment of what is learning gone?

Part of what we’re being taught is that we need to be able to do it. One thing we can do is embrace it. But if there are several options we’re being taught, so there are alternative outcomes, is that model of support (self-help support) sufficient? I know that most educators who I met have good intentions. Most educators get good evaluations. But, I’ve learned in working with training organizations that good intentions don’t always get things done. I think we need someone who can do it — if it’s not that person, it might be someone else. Unfortunately, it may also mean that we need to do this ourselves.

I do believe that colleges and universities need to do better at this, but it doesn’t have to mean “be the other option.” It just means that they need to ask themselves if they are using these tools well. They need to engage with adaptive learning and self-paced learning. They need to do it themselves because they get evaluations, and I have a hard time believing that evaluations are sufficient.

As this conversation continues, I’m sure I’ll hear many questions about what I should do, what I should feel, and what I should think, and most of these are legitimate questions. I take all these criticisms very seriously, and am sure I will improve as a teacher because of them. Most importantly, for all that people think it doesn’t work, we see too many examples from the extraordinary outcomes of individual students.

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