Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Importance of Emphasizing Individual Learning in the "Collaborative Learning Era"

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Importance of Emphasizing Individual Learning in the "Collaborative Learning Era"

Article excerpt


Modern learning theories from any cognitive-constructivist paradigm assume that learning involves iterative processes of structuring, refining and restructuring of mental models. These processes are combined with other learning related processes like sense-making, debugging, evaluation, reflection and more. All these processes are necessary for meaningful learning whether employed in a context of collaborative or individual learning.

When one examines the current published research related to learning and particularly to computer-mediated learning, the proportion of research about collaborative learning is astonishing. Even though proponents of collaborative learning acknowledge the important role of individual learning (Dillenbourg, 2005; Stahl, Koschmann and Suthers, 2006), current research papers deal mainly with collaboration with very little mention of the individual facet. In addition, the research dealing with collaborative learning is shifting from looking at groups as a contextual variable to analyzing group dynamics and looking at learning as a group process. There is no doubt that collaborative learning has many advantages. There is also no doubt that group dynamics is an important facet of collaboration, but there is no need to belittle the crucial facet of individual learning.

As the focus of research influences practice and further research, we argue that more emphasis should be given to research regarding individual learning both as a prerequisite and as a complementary facet of collaborative learning. We argue further that as assessment tools shape and direct students' learning goals, it is necessary to incorporate more individual assessment tools in higher education in order to foster the necessity of individual learning skills and individual accountability. That is not to say that collaboration is to be abandoned; on the contrary, our argument has the goal of leveraging the benefits of collaborative learning processes. There is an underlying implicit assumption when dealing with collaborative learning processes that students are already used to learning as individuals. It is an implicit assumption that students have already practiced the relevant skills associated with learning, such as explaining to themselves, analyzing, synthesizing, combining and comparing to previous knowledge, making generalizations, reflecting and other relevant skills. It seems that compared with the efforts given to investigating how to support collaborative learning, individual learning is not supported enough. Even though collaborative learning can be seen as being the two facets of individual and group learning working together, this does not imply that the best way to promote collaborative learning is by exercising collaborative learning directly. We believe that there is much more need to foster and assess individual learning in order to obtain meaningful collaborative learning.

In this paper we describe an instructional tactic for promoting and strengthening individual learning processes. The instructional tactic suggested in this paper is based on a unique design for individually assigned homework. By individually assigned homework we mean homework that is required to be done individually (versus collaboratively).It is required to be done by the student him or herself, and designed in such a way that each student uses different data than the other students for performing the task. The idea behind the design is to force students to try to employ individual learning processes. Intermediate and final values are different from one student to another and any comparison (or "borrowing") of values is fruitless for completing the homework assignments.

The assignments are not dynamically adapted to students' characteristics and knowledge. There is no skill profile or any use of student modeling capabilities as in intelligent tutoring systems. The individually assigned homework tactic that is described in this paper is much easier to implement than more intelligent adaptation techniques, and students' intermediate inputs can be checked easily. …

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