Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Comparison of Collaboration and Performance in Groups of Learners Assembled Randomly or Based on Learners' Topic Preferences

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Comparison of Collaboration and Performance in Groups of Learners Assembled Randomly or Based on Learners' Topic Preferences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Designed to mimic the fact that collaboration is an everyday activity, the collaboration approach has been widely used since the 1970s (Strijbos, Martens, & Jochems, 2004), and it has taken on particular prominence in education within the last decade (Laal & Ghodsi, 2012). eLearning environments typically incorporate several tools and communication channels to support collaboration among learners (Koschmann, Kelson, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1996).

The term "collaboration" has been widely applied and studied in many fields with the aim of optimising and exploiting the synergies made possible by collective intelligence (Levy, 2007). Collaboration supports corporate success by fostering the transfer of knowledge within multidisciplinary teams (Skyrme, 2013). Olson, Olson, Carter, and Storrosten (1992) analysed how different members of one organisation collaborated during meetings, and they found that a significant amount of time was spent designing the format of the discussion. Robson and Bennett (2000) found that collaborative modes of interaction between small businesses and their suppliers were critical to increasing turnover.

Collaboration in education has been widely studied (Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O'Malley, 1995). In one seminal study, Dewiyanti, Brand-Gruwel, Jochems, and Broers (2007) found that group satisfaction with collaborative work varied directly with group cohesion, and that most learners enjoyed working on collaborative projects. So and Brush (2008) found that students who participated more in collaborative learning projects were more satisfied with the learning experience than learners who participated less. Educational technology in general and eLearning in particular exploit a range of platforms and communication tools to harness the learning power of collaboration. Evidence suggests that 3D immersive environments, in which learners interact in a virtual learning world, are particularly effective at catalysing collaboration among learners (Lorenzo, Sicilia & Sanchez, 2012).

One of the key questions when designing collaborative tasks is how to assign learners to collaborative groups. This is particularly important when the target audience is adult learners, since they often exhibit strong preferences about what topics they wish to learn and which learning strategies and tactics they wish to use (Knowles, 1970). Thus designing collaborative tasks according to learner's preferences may provide strategic insights into instructional design for adult learners in on-line courses.

Surprisingly, little is known about how learner's preferences influence collaborative learning outcomes in eLearning. The present study adopts the relatively new and underexploited approach of combining content analysis (CA) and Social Network Analysis (SNA) to examine the effects of learner preferences on participation in collaborative projects and on learning performance.

Here we compare collaboration in quantitative and qualitative terms and in terms of learning performance between groups of on-line learners organised randomly and groups containing only members interested in the assigned topic. We wanted to know whether learners who work only on their preferred topics collaborate differently than learners who are assigned topics randomly. To gain insights into how learners collaborate under each type of group composition, we took a combined approach of SNA and CA. These complementary techniques provide insights into, respectively, the quantity and quality of interaction (Erlin, Yusof, & Rahman, 2008; Erlin, Yusof, & Rahman, 2009; Rabbany k., Takaffoli, & Zaiane, 2012).

Theoretical background

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is an instructional approach in which students work in groups to solve a problem (Dillenbourg & Schneider, 1995). In learning environments, collaboration can promote critical thinking (Gokhale, 1995), lead to better learning outcomes than traditional methods under certain conditions (Terenzini, Cabrera, Colbeck, Parente, & Bjorklund, 2001), develop social interaction skills and help students develop a sense of responsibility towards one another (Laal & Ghodsi, 2012), and develop social competencies (Bruffee, 1995) cognitive skills (Le, 2002) and problem-solving abilities (Blaye et al. …

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