We are social beings and our interactions with our peers often become golden opportunities to learn. It is this aspect of our nature that collaborative learning focuses on, a pedagogical approach that we presented in a previous article. In addition, here is a practical guide to integrating it effectively into adult education, whether it is offered face-to-face or online.

Collaborative learning in a nutshell

The following is a commonly cited definition of collaborative learning that is suitable for both face-to-face and distance modes:

“Collaborative learning is an active process in which the learner works to build knowledge […]. The learner is committed to working with group members towards a common goal while balancing personal interests and goals […]. Exchanges with the group and the regulation of a collective task allow the learner to share his or her discoveries, negotiate the meaning to be given to his or her work and validate his or her newly constructed knowledge.” (F. Henri and K. Lundgren-Cayrol, 2003)

Various tasks or activities can lend themselves to collaborative learning. These may include exploring a subject, communicating knowledge or ideas, developing presentations, etc.

The teacher

  • Gives learners a common goal to achieve.
  • Clarifies to learners what learning environment and tools are available to them.
  • Explains the conditions necessary for the exercise to run smoothly and ensures that they are respected.
  • Establishes the climate in which the exercise must take place and remains the key to its success.
  • Remains aware of the needs of the learners and becomes a resource person for them.
  • Acts in turn as a mediator and facilitator, according to the needs of the learners and their group.
  • Ensures optimal progress: guides, motivates, questions learners and suggests breaks when necessary.
  • Invites learners to give their assessment of the cohesion and productivity of their group once the exercise is over.
  • Conducts formative evaluations of each learner’s acquired knowledge, as well as providing insight into the learning processes and metacognitive strategies they have implemented (see Metacognition 101).

The groups

Ideally, they are composed of:

  • the learners.
  • 4 to 6 members.
  • learners with diverse profiles (training, professional activity, age, gender, knowledge or level of competence in the studied subject, etc.).

How the exercise is carried out

From the given common goal, learners must:

  • Seek new knowledge or ideas in the learning environment available to them in order to achieve the given common goal.
  • Share or confront their individual ideas or opinions with those of other members of their group.
  • Link the ideas or opinions of each group member to create new ones.
  • Structure new ideas so that new learning can occur.

The necessary conditions for collaborative learning

These conditions are essential for a successful collaborative learning exercise:

  • Sufficient preparation time. The teacher must ensure that the groups have had enough time to complete this exercise, which requires a certain depth, real involvement on the part of everyone and meaningful interpersonal exchanges.
  • Listening to each other. The quality of relationships is a key factor in collaborative learning, and this begins with listening. Thus, learners need to be particularly good at listening to each other.
  • Openness and respect. A climate of openness and respect must prevail so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas or points of view and so that no one feels pressured to adopt another’s ideas or points of view.
  • Fair speaking time. There should be a fair distribution of time for everyone in the group to speak.
Van Djijk A., Réinventez vos formations avec les neurosciences : Tout comprendre du cerveau et de l’Apprentissage des adultes, ESF sciences humaines, 2019.
Henri F. et Lundgren-Cayrol K., Apprentissage collaboratif à distance, téléconférence et télédiscussion, Rapport interne no 3 (version 1.7), Montréal : LICEF, 1997.
Henri, F. et Lundgren-Cayrol, K, Apprentissage collaboratif à distance. Sainte-Foy, Canada : Presses Universitaires du Québec, 2003.
Sénécal I. et Blondel C. (2018), « La collaboration ».
Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.

Catherine Meilleur has over 15 years of experience in research and writing. Having worked as a journalist and educational designer, she is interested in everything related to learning: from educational psychology to neuroscience, and the latest innovations that can serve learners, such as virtual and augmented reality. She is also passionate about issues related to the future of education at a time when a real revolution is taking place, propelled by digital technology and artificial intelligence.