Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning has taken on many forms. One form is Collaborative Networked Learning for the self-directed adult learner.

Dr. Charles Findley,Ph.D., began exploring and coined the term Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL) in the mid 1980's as part of the work on designing the classroom of the future for the knowledge worker.

Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL) is that learning which occurs via electronic dialogue between self-directed co-learners and learners and experts. Learners share a common purpose, depend upon each other and are accountable to each other for their success. CNL occurs in interactive groups in which participants actively communicate and negotiation meaning with one another.

Three important considerations motivate the focus on CNL in this resource.

CNL is sound educational practice. edit

Researchers and educators have contrasted collaborative activities with two other categories-- competitive and individualistic. Competitive activities, for example, include those in which only one person can win, or where learners compete for grades, rank, or status, rather than when all members focus on achieving mastery or competence. Individualistic activities, for example, include working in isolation with no interaction with others, or when a learner interacts only with a self-paced manual or CBI, rather than when all members share ideas with each other.

The overwhelming conclusion of research in the goals of learning environments is that collaborative,cooperative goal directed activities lead to higher achievement. Overall higher achievement translates into higher productivity.

CNL is sound business practice. edit

Much work in the information age enterprise involves collaborative, team oriented tasks. Learning workers share information with one another in order to accomplish common tasks in a small group. Professionals share information with each other, and learn something about each others' specialization in order to reach consensus on a common problem. Assembly line workers have increased productivity when workers learned from each other how their different individual parts of the task fit together to produce the whole. All of these different learning workers are engaging in activities which involve collaboration.

Life-long learning in the workplace is becoming a necessity rather than an ideal. The need for collaboration is great and will continue. By facilitating collaborative methods of learning, we could help workers acquire individually and collectively the rapidly, changing knowledge required in the high-tech workplace.

Collaboration is a condition of learning in the information workplace. edit

While the worker in the industrial era factory learned how to manipulate objects and memorized actions, the worker in the modern organization learns how to think, learn and apply information to a task.

  1. Workers need to engage in activities that allow them to approach problems from different vantage points, testing out assumptions,and redefining meanings,i.e.creative thinking in order to develop new viewpoints.
  2. Workers need to engage in the social,collaborative exchange of ideas in order to pose hypothetical problems, general hypotheses, conduct experiments and reflect on outcomes.

Basically, workers are learning in groups to make meaning out of information. Not only do workers need to make meaning out of the information but in order to actually perform their jobs they need to be able to share that meaning with others.

This guide is to serve as a basic resource for individuals planning, implementing, and participating in Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL) communities as co-learners. The general guidelines provided here draw upon published research and from experience with successful applications of different CNL models.

Collaboration in Groups: Intra-personal and Interpersonal Communication edit

Collaborative Learning, therefore, would occur in the context of a group with a mission or agreed-upon-purpose. The work involves the structuring and restructuring of conceptual knowledge. The final product is a message, an external artifact of the group knowledge at a particular point in time, which communicates the knowledge of the group. The message might take the form of a program, a report, a strategy document, a diagram, a drawing etc. Learning-work involves the cognitive processes of assimilation--intake of information from the environment, accommodation--restructuring to fit new into the old, present structure, and integration--directly fitting information into existing structure. And most importantly it involves the resolution of conflict between old and new structures,which can lead to innovation.

Two communication processes or type of dialogs are involved in collaborative learning: (1) Intra-personal communication--integration, and accommodation--involves processing within the individual. (2) Interpersonal communication involves assimilation-- the intake of information from the environment--and representation of one's knowledge structure in a form and medium that can be shared with another person. As one person shares ideas with another person, the process becomes an on-going loop from assimilation through representation of knowledge structures.

At any point the learner may represent his/her ideas in order to test out hypotheses to gain agreement or validation. When members of a mission oriented group create shared knowledge structure and produce an artifact such as a written report or a software program, for example, they engage in learning to created a product which is their collective knowledge.

Collaboration--Across Time and Distance edit

Channel Selection edit

Electronically networked group involves different communication channels than when working one to one. Selecting an appropriate channel for the each tasks may accomplish the objectives. Adler and Elmhost (2005) consider five important factors to help one decide when, where and how to communicate, such as the time required to receive feedback, amount of information conveyed, sender’s control over the message, control over receiver’s attention and effectiveness for detailed message. In order to determine when to meet face-to-face or when to send e-mail or perhaps when to send a simple instant text message, consult Table 1.1 page 13 in Adler and Rodman, Understanding Human Communication 9th edition for guidance.

Feedback Strategy: Feedback messages without nonverbal clues edit

As part of a face-to-face group individuals are constantly reading the nonverbal communication such as gestures, facial express, voice tone, and change in body position. In essence, the communicators are monitoring the interaction looking for feedback that says "how things are going." These feedback messages are both verbal and non-verbal. Communicators become accustomed to reading the nonverbal messages for level of understanding, agreement, or meaning that is shared among the participants in the interaction. In many collaborative networked environments, the non-verbal messages are reduced or non-existent. Participants develop special strategies for eliciting and sharing feedback in networked environments. For example, in an electronic network involving only text-based computer mediated communication (CMC) the feedback is more restricted than in other networks.

Eliciting and contributing Feedback edit

Process Facilitation—how are we doing as a group edit

While any participant may assume responsibility for eliciting feedback and confirming meaning from other participants, all members of the learning group share the responsibility for clarification and confirmation. Each individual participates actively to let others know their current level of understanding or acceptance. David and Roger Johnson (1994) offer some general advice for providing feedback which will help create a group context which supports group communication. Based on their research in collaborative group learning environments, they offer the following ground rules for providing effective feedback:

Effective feedback is as immediate as possible; rather than allowing misunderstandings to multiple and continue through a series of exchanges, members check for understanding regularly.

Effective feedback focuses on description and personal interpretations of messages rather than judgment or evaluation.

Effective feedback focuses on the particular message or behavior of the participant rather than imagined personality traits.

Effective feedback is personal such as I perceive... or I understand rather than impersonal such as The general perception is..... or The level of understanding is ......

Effective feedback provides only the amount of information that can be understood or is meaningful at the time, rather than a dissertation.

Effective feedback is specific and focused rather than general and abstract. It is meaningful within the present context of the group communication.

Feedback about group process is important. edit

One often neglected aspect of feedback is the collaborative process itself. The Johnsons suggest that members of a group who are attempting to engage in collaborative group work focus feedback on group process as well as the specific content of the group efforts. Elaine Kerr (1985,p.16) " Small task-oriented groups need to occasionally pause to talk about the process itself: participant rates, the tone of the conversation, conflicts, feelings about the process, impacts, observations and problems of using the system, equipment..." Creating a special time or electronic space for this type of feedback is vital to the on-going success of the collaboration.

If the team is to continue to collaborate and grow as a group, then it will need to focus on its own interaction as a group. Sharing observations about process in the group can help group members become aware of where the group is collectively and how individuals have contributed to that direction. Observation of this nature provides the feedback necessary for groups to improve their overall productivity and satisfaction.

Collaborative Group Productivity suggestions edit

Get to Know the members

Review the background introduction profiles Share fears, success and concerns about collaborative team work

Group Memory

As part of the work process it is important to create a group memory or repository of content date.

Use the chat room with “record” selected to archive the decisions and discussion. Use the discussion forum conference to post and discuss ideas rather than sending individual attachment emails.

Project Management Hints Create time tables for different phases.

Set expectations about individual and group deliverables.

Follow-up discussion and meetings with summarized agreements and reminders of timelines.

References edit

  • Adler, Ronald B. and J. M. Elmhorst. Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Business and the Professions, 8th ed. (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2005) Pp. 32-33.
  • Adler, Ronald B. and George Rodman. Understanding Human Communication. 9th ed. (New York, Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 13.
  • Bransford, John et al.1986. " Teaching Thinking and Problem Solving" American Psychologist. 41,10,pp.1078-1088.
  • Friedman, Thomas. 2005. The World is Flat: A brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Findley, Charles A. 1989. Open Communication Systems Beyond the Classroom. Presentation at World Future Society, July 16-20, Washington, D.C.
  • ________________. 1989. Collaborative Learning-work. Presentation at the Pacific Telecommunications Council 1989 Conference, January 15-20, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • _________________. 1988. Collaborative Networked Learning: On-line Facilitation and Software Support, Digital Equipment Corporation. Burlington, MA.
  • _________________. 1987. Integrated Learning and Information Support Systems for the Information Age Worker. Presentation at World Future Society Conference, Cambridge, MA., November 1987.
  • Johnson, David W. and Roger T. Johnson

Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic learning(4th edition) Allyn & Bacon, Boston, 1994.

  • Kerr,Elaine. 1985. "Electronic Leadership:

A Guide to Moderating On-line Conferences," IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications, Vol. PC 29, No 1, p.16.

  • Levy, Frank and Richard J. Murnane. 2005. ‘’The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market’’ Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

  • Peters. Thomas J. and Robert Waterman (1982). In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Peters, Thomas J. (2006). Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age (Paperback). New York: Dorling Kindersley Adult.

Appendix edit

This provides some more substance and documentation for the general listing of trends.



1) There will be a shortfall of approximately 50 million jobs by 2010. (Alan Porter, FUTURIST,Sept/Oct 1986)

2) The "job" is the cornerstone of our social structure. It provides for economic, social, and psychological needs. Take it away and society could collapse--unless we plan ahead.(Alan Porter, FUTURIST,Sept/Oct 1986)

(3) Self-learning programs will be on the market in specific domains so that they can generalize from experience,i.e. learn new information; therefore, individual will not have to learn content but how to access new knowledge (information) from the learning machine supporting the work.


(1)The first jobs to be replaced will be the procedural since they are the easiest to be automated,e.g. robotics in manufacturing,assemble line work. (2) More and more intelligent, self-monitoring and self-diagnosing programs on microprocessors are being included in products. (3) New jobs will require workers who can make decisions, solve problem and think independently since the routine control, monitoring, and procedural tasks will be performed by intelligent machines.


Industrial era has ended; we have moved into a post-industrial era with a central focus on information and service.

GM uses programmable controllers in manufacturing; GM is making a substantial long-term investment in Automation. American corporations reduce manufacturing staff. IBM offers early retirement options beginning at age 45. Bundled solutions with SW/HW products.


What trends do you see in product strategy, job descriptions, personnel policies etc. that reinforce or contradict this trend?

Information Technology: Communication and Computers(C sq.) become Utility edit


Csq. adapts to you, knows you, and adapts, intelligent C sq. becomes interactive partner in on-going dialog

(1)Knowledge processing schemes with parallel processing, associative memory, and inference/knowledge processing rather than stored-program schemes of von-Neumann computer architectures

(2)Japanese Fifth Generation--smaller, more powerful, and more intelligent 1991 projections Report

    1)Very High Performance Computer Systems--100gates/chip
    2)Seven-Dimension VLSI
    3) Biocomputers--modeling of Human brain, biochips, and new computer
    architecture using human brain as model [e.g. study of connectionist 
    theory relevant at this level]
    (Hideo Aiso, Chair Fifth Generation Computer Systems Project, speech
    "Research Topics in Japanese national Projects for Information Technology"
    presented October 10, 1986 at Digital Equipment Corp. Hudson, Mass.

(3)New Computing machines could not only be much faster and cheaper, but could achieve the elusive goals of recognizing images, understanding speech, and exhibiting more intelligent behavior. (Michael L. Dertouzos, The Multiprocessor Revolution: Harnessing Computers Together, TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, February/March 1986)


1)mini-computers, micro-computers, to lap-top, to knee-top all with the same power,.e.g. more memory on a chip--more power and memory in smaller size (e.g. follow product strategy from floor model TV to hand held "Watchman.")

2)all data-types(including but not limited to real time audio,video, text, graphics) will be processed and transmitted as part of the home and office infosphere.

3) "Whether you're talking about the office or the home, I don't think you'll be able to tell the difference between your telephone and your computer as time goes on." John Roach, Tandy Corporation Chairman, PERSONAL COMPUTING, Sept. 1985

4)Computer Aid Communication (CAC) becomes common place in organizations. (See Chandler Stevens,ELECTRONIC ORGANIZATION and EXPERT NETWORKS, report 5.41.011 from Management in the 1990's project at MIT.)


(1)"A revolution is taking place within the information revolution. It involves harnessing hundreds, thousands, or even millions of computers to work together on a single task. The technological and economic forces spurring this revolution arise form two important trends. On the one hand is the dramatic improvement over the past two decades in very-large-scale-integrated (VLSI) circuits, which now incorporate some hundred-thousand components on a silicon chip. The cost of computational power has dropped an average of 30 percent annually. For less than $100 manufacturers can now fabricate a microprocessor--the computational core of a computer etched on a single chip-- capable of performing more than a million instructions per second." (Michael L. Dertouzos, The Multiprocessor Revolution: Harnessing Computers Together, TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, February/March 1986,p45.)

(2)Local and wide-area networks marketed. ('Power,status' based on withholding information breaks down. (See discussion of information society.)

(3)Video-phone's on the market using voice over internet or cable

(4)Phone slave project at MIT

(5)In 1984, 40% of the Fortune 500 Industry and Service companies had local area networks, projected to be 72% 1985. It is clear from the study that respondents have a good understanding of word processing equipment and personal computers. But there is a lot of confusion as to the linkage between these tools. (The Office Automation Challenge: American Business Responds prepared by the OMNI GROUP, reported in COMPUTER WORLD April,1984) (6)Electronic mail (e.g. mail and gateways to the world from office or home terminal) and electronic conferencing (e.g. Conferencing, public and private bulletin boards and collaborative information creation)

QUESTIONS (1)F. S. engineers working with networks need different type of problem-solving analysis, and independent thinking skills than their counterparts. (How was this addressed and are their other indicators that education and training will change?)

(2)Did training change to adjust to the market in 1984? Also the level of training required shifts from the clerical worker to the system administrator did it?

Characteristics of Information Society edit


(1)Using Toffler's framework, the Third Wave, based on information and electronic technology with mature and become clearly dominate in the next 10 years. Another period of innovation and high growth will occur, lasting about 25 years. A third period of Third Wave innovation will take off and last us until about 2045, at which point the economy will decline until the next wave of technology comes into dominance: the Cybernetic Wave. (H. Alan Raymond. Management in the Third Wave. THE FUTURIST. Sept./Oct. 1986. p. 15-17. (2) The rate of change is increasing and continuous. (See Alvin Toffler. 1980. THE THIRD WAVE. Bantan Books,New York.)


(1)Individual's are becoming more specialized in their area of endeavor. Problem-solving and decision making require integration from number of specialized.

(2)Multiple dissimilar databases can be searched without changing the structure of the representation within the individual databases. (See notes on Hudson seminar and I 3 work)

(3)" The increased adoption of knowledge-distribution technology, super- imposed on the geometrically increasing knowledge base, will necessarily result in a knowledge environment that is dramatically more munificent ( or burdening) than is that of today. " George Huber. The Nature and Design of Post-industrial Organizations. MANAGEMENT SCIENCE Vol 30, 8, Aug 1984, p.,931

(4)Corporations will invest in the workers and technologies that best extract and process information resources.


(1)The information age of the post-industrial era has replaced the industrial era. New demands for information, its creation, management, use and distribution are needed.

(2)Providing access to more information is prevalent vs. right information to meet demand is waiting for solution.

(3)Work is underway to design Collaborative Working environment tools

     MCC conference in December 1986
     Debbie Tatter's group at Xerox PARC
     GDSS ( Group Decision Support Systems) are being designed to 
    help facilitate the need for shared information within organizations.  
    AS typical GDSS consists of a meeting room with a conference table.
    Each seating position has a small CRT terminal.  Input at these terminals 
    is by keyboard, touchscreen, mouse, or some combination of these devices.
    The meeting's participants are able to create displays on their CRT's
    and to select portions of their 'personal' display for forwarding 
    to a public display screen.
    George Huber, Issues in the Design of Group Decision Support Systems,
    MIS QUARTERLY, September 1984 p.195.  

(4)Life-cycle of information--the information explosion is continuing at an every expanding rate. Product training is outdated before printed because of the faster rate and number of new products introduced into the marketplace. For example, training groups develop courses printed 1600 pages of material on products for new hire training. It was outdated before delivered to the audience. (Reference key points from Huber and Ackoff about organizations, information, and post-industrial society).

QUESTIONS (1)What database solutions are people developing to handle information needs? What complaints are their about too much/or not enough information? (2)Is information being managed as a Corp. resource? (3)Are the right people getting the information they need to perform their tasks?

Key trends in individual thoughts and Values edit

A premium was placed upon obedience and loyalty in the industrial organizational structure. Thinking and innovation only upset rigid, planned structures and were not highly valued. Tasks including management with simplified down to their lowest level so that almost anyone do them. People, like parts, were interchangeable and standardized.

A new monetary premium is being placed on the individual, on thinking and on innovation, and on the speed and precision of execution. Decision making and responsibility are again required of the individual who may less easily pass the buck and must be financially responsible for his area or product, as the corporate pyramid flattens, i.e. four levels of management from the bottom to top is goal of many organizations today. [Look at your organization and count the levels.] Decisions in a faster-paced economy cannot wait for endless committee meetings and analysis that would only allow the competition to win. Fast decisions require a maximum of information and instant and precise analysis. This, in turn, requires better and more highly educated personnel, who also must be innovative in using new technology. Individuals are becoming less easily interchanged and more intrinsic to the business. (H. Alan Raymond. Management in the Third Wave. THE FUTURIST. Sept./Oct. 1986. p. 15-17.



Long Range Goals:Key Themes in Learning Environments edit

Holistic approach to person and process with less focus on product. Product will be more intelligent and will help you use it.

Needs analysis and problem definition tools such as decision support for manager and instructional design will become much, much more sophisticated than today taking into consideration all variables effecting total solution for client.

Needs analysis becomes interactive and self monitoring rather than a discrete part of dead end process.

Methods will not just be limited to text based but will include multiple sensory inputs with simulations.

More sophisticated matching of means with ends in terms of "training" solution.

New ways of testing/indicating knowing--suggest looking at paradigm such as (1)doesn't know (2)consciously aware of knowing (3) unconsciously conscious of knowing, DON'T TEST 'HOW TO' CONTENT instead PERFORMANCE defined in broad since related to job, not trivial performance as in behavioral objectives.

===More learning on job with intelligent systems that are adaptable and tolerable to individual===

Possibly less learning on the part of the individual and more learning from computer, so that computer monitors job tasks and strategies employed becomes more intelligent and thus becomes intelligent job aid for worker who just has to use the computer, e.g. self-referential programs.

Need to consider not only the physical dimension, but the social and task/ knowledge requirements of any learning situation.

Instructors can not possibly know everything about a particular area thus the "instructor" is not a disseminator of information but a facilitator, guide or coach for the learner, i.e. equality of learner with the human or machine manager of learning environment.

Content has to change to help learner move beyond rote memorization, stress process, learning how to learn, visualization, decision making, thinking and problem solving.

Social environment of designer of learning environments and experience has to change drastically because the social environment is reflected in the tools, e.g. top down, structured programming in an era of object- oriented programming, parallel processing, and networks.

The user controls the learning process rather than the process being controlled by an outside designer, teacher or system.

The learning environment knows about itself and the user within it edit

System is maintained by a "maintenance librarian" program.

Content (is process) is flexible and evolving, need processes in place to replace outdated information automatically, need ways to know what the learner doesn't need to be learning anymore.

There is a spectrum of solutions, for any learning problem--need to have way of analyzing situation and recommending solution.