Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Complexity of Social Interactions in Collaborative Learning: The Case of Online Database Environment

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Complexity of Social Interactions in Collaborative Learning: The Case of Online Database Environment

Article excerpt


Computer technologies enable intellectual partnership between the individual learner and advanced intelligent tools. These technologies are mainly intended for activities and intellectual partnerships that encourage thinking and learning in a social context (Rosen & Salomon, 2007; Salomon, 2000). The theoretical basis for learning as a social process was developed by Vygotsky (1978) who placed great emphasis on the social context of the learning process. This perception became particularly relevant in relation to learning processes involving communications-based computer technologies. Vygotsky stressed the importance of the interaction between the learner and his/her environment, including the importance of support and feedback during the learning process, and he introduced the gap between the level of performance and the level of the learner's personal potential as the Zone of Proximal Development. He claimed that the personal potential could be realized through a process of interaction with and support from the human environment and from various tools. Thus, under optimal conditions, reciprocal interpersonal activity could lead to intrapersonal mental development, in other words, the connection between social functioning and cognitive functioning. When trying to solve a problem together through the exchange of ideas, a team of learners constructs shared meanings that the individual would not have attained alone. The collaborative parameter and the social context of a meaningful learning process are expressed through raising issues for group discussion based on prior knowledge and joint confrontation of the problems, the outcome of which is the ongoing development of thinking. In light of this perception, researchers claim that, on the one hand, one may refer to interpersonal communications that are internalized by the individual and serve personal-cognitive functions, and, on the other, one may refer to joint meaning appropriation. Intelligence is not a matter of (individual) ownership, but a quality that grows out of interpersonal negotiation.

Theoretical Background

The use of information technology (IT) for learning enables collaborative learning and has become a popular topic of research within the field of education. Sharing may take place at different stages of the learning, such as knowledge sources, data collection, information processing, information outcomes, and outcome assessment (Hathorn & Ingram, 2002). An effective task is one that enables all participants to express themselves and make significant contributions to the final product.

It appears that technology tools, following the development of advanced IT communications, are a platform that promotes and encourages collaborative learning and, thus, might help close the gap between the level of performance and the learner's level of personal potential within the collaborative and interactive learning process. Researchers claim that computer-mediated communications is an excellent medium for activities involving debate, reflection, and better learning (Williams, Duray, & Venkateshwar, 2006). The use of IT affects the collaborative interaction between students and enhances learning (Alavi & Gallupe, 2003). Web-based communications, especially in the Web 2.0 era, contribute to the advancement of collaborative learning since they encourage pro-activism among users to create social ties, share human experiences, and generate new knowledge for rapid distribution and cooperation (Herwing, Mathias, Strohmaier, Dosinger, & Tochtermann, 2007). The interaction between the participants in an online environment also creates an important sense of belonging (Rovai, 2002).

It seems that there is a close correlation between learning as a social process and the perception of learning as the construction of knowledge. In computer-based learning, the emphasis shifts to interactive learning through cooperation and collaboration among all participants in the process. …

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