Imagine this: a group where people actively engage with each other, sharing knowledge and ideas while gaining a deep(er) understanding of a subject without just one person lecturing the rest. The good news is, you don’t have to dream about it at all. This dynamic learning environment constitutes the foundation of what has come to be known as collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is not restricted only to classroom settings as we shall see in this article and the benefits you gain from it expand beyond the mere learning of a topic.

What is collaborative learning?

Traditionally, the classroom setup entailed a one-way approach to knowledge: the teacher assumes the role of the source, the provider and the students that of recipients. Collaborative learning challenges this approach. Collaborative learning is an educational strategy that emphasizes active participation and cooperation among learners instead. By applying it, students are encouraged to interact, exchange knowledge and challenge one another’s perspectives. The role of the teacher, then, shifts from that of provider to that of mediator. Teachers don’t create structured lesson plans anymore; rather they come up with tasks or issues that can be tackled only by merging different types of intelligence and problem-solving skills. 

people in a collaborative learning room

Where is it applied?

Collaborative learning can be implemented across a wide range of educational settings. They include but aren’t limited to schools, universities, adult education as well as professional environments. It is a flexible approach and is adaptable to virtually any situation. In classrooms, it takes the shape of group projects, debates and discussions. Online collaboration tools, additionally, enable students to work together remotely too. And if you think of corporate settings, collaborative learning fosters a culture of innovation, allowing employees to benefit from a collective intelligence. 

Collaborative learning in practice

Let’s see together a few ways in which collaborative learning is leveraged:

  • Discussions and debates: Participants engage in conversations on various topics, share their experiences and explore different perspectives.
  • Group or pair activities: It involves activities where participants work together to complete an exercise, for example.
  • Project-based learning: Participants collaborate on projects such as creating content, videos or presentations. These tasks normally require multiple skills, which are brought together and eventually applied to obtain the best results.
  • Problem-solving tasks: Participants work together in order to come up with a solution to the issue at hand.

Benefits of collaborative learning

What is it in for me, you might ask. Well, if the 80’s brought us amazing music, they were also fertile grounds for research on the advantages of using collaborative learning. Here are some of them. Among the benefits of collaborative learning, it was found that:

  • It enhances critical thinking: The group questions, analyzes, and evaluates concepts from different perspectives. By engaging in discussions and debates, they learn to challenge assumptions and develop critical thinking skills to arrive at more comprehensive conclusions.
  • It helps develop communication skills: Collaboration would not happen – smoothly at least – if communication among participants wasn’t clear and on point. Effective communication skills such as active listening, articulating ideas and explaining concepts to others are rehearsed and reinforced in collaborative learning settings.
  • It strengthens social skills: Working collaboratively allows the group to improve their social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Participants learn to respect diverse opinions, negotiate and resolve conflicts which will in turn serve them for the demands of the real world.
  • It fosters self-confidence: Everyone in the group is expected to contribute actively to discussions, by proposing ideas and solving problems together. By seeing their ideas valued and appreciated by their peers, participants’ self-confidence and self-esteem are enhanced, leading to more engagement and eagerness to participate.
  • It promotes a positive learning environment and peer-learning: A key advantage of collaborative learning is the opportunity for peer learning, where participants learn from one another. This cooperative environment enables learners to benefit from the individual strengths, backgrounds and skills of their peers, which then results in not only a more thorough understanding of the subject matter, but also a positive learning environment.
SPEAK language group collaborative learning
SPEAK language group in Porto

How does SPEAK leverage collaborative learning?

At SPEAK we try to build bridges between cultures by having migrants and locals come together. For that, we don’t need teachers to give language lessons. Instead, we use an informal methodology in which people interested in learning a language are teamed up with a buddy – a native speaker of that language – who will facilitate their journey with the support of our resources and our team. Integrating collaborative learning principles into SPEAK’s language groups, both participants and buddies can experience the benefits of a positive, engaging and safe environment while acquiring and sharing linguistic and cultural skills. Collaborative learning within these settings empowers individuals to learn from one another, celebrate diversity and create meaningful connections in an inclusive and supportive environment. Among many examples and success testimonials, read about how Tania managed to build a 300-people-strong community in Madrid.

Come together for the best of results

Active participation, peer feedback, group work and cultural understanding: these are just some of the principles taken from the theory of collaborative learning that are omnipresent at SPEAK and our model. Collaborative learning in all its shapes and forms not only equips those who took part in it with the knowledge they need but also empowers them with the essential skills required for success in all aspects of their lives. 

Author: Valentina Rampazzo

Valentina is a polyglot, with a passion for writing and sharing knowledge through stories. She is based in Berlin, where she works as a Content Manager. Valentina loves plant-based cooking, her black cat and warm places. She currently speaks 5 languages and collaborates with SPEAK as a guest writer.

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