Collaborative Learning
ATD Blog

Assessing Online Collaborative Learning

Thursday, April 28, 2016

One of the most common concerns about the evaluation of collaborative learning is that even though all participants do not contribute equally, their efforts are grouped with those of their team members in a single score. 

A solution to this genuine concern is to assess participants at both the individual and group level. Additionally, as recommended in the previous post in this series, group rewards should be based on individual learning. This reward interdependence helps emphasize individual accountability. It also compels participants to support the learning process of their team members. 

When is the right time to evaluate a collaborative learning program? The assessment of the transformation in knowledge (cognitive domain) or social behavior (affective domain) should be done throughout the collaborative process, while keeping the participants motivated, and not just toward the end. 


Assessing the progress at multiple stages of the program helps identify:

  • desired improvements in knowledge, skills, and behavior
  • challenges or conflicts
  • required changes to the flow of the program
  • ·necessary checkpoints.

Checkpoints should be spaced out in such a way that participants have enough time to reflect on their performance and devise a strategy for subsequent collaborative sessions to improve their performance. This approach will help them develop the necessary skills and behavior for effective collaboration.
An assessment will vary depending on three key elements: 

#1: Focus

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Behavior

#2: Type:

  • Self-assessment
  • Team self-assessment
  • Peer assessment (Tip: If evaluators are hard-pressed for time to grade a session, use peer rating to reduce the evaluators’ workload while keeping participants engaged.)
  • Assessment by facilitator
  • Assessment by sponsor(s)

#3: Format

  • Questionnaires
  • Critical thinking assignments
  • Reflective summary
  • Online research reports
  • Online survey
  • Virtual role plays
  • Scenario-based questions
  • Rating scales
  • Feedback forms (Tip: When collecting feedback on session expectation fulfillment, do not stop after evaluating it only once. Try to gather participants’ opinions using the “step-back-dive-in” approach throughout the program, to be aware of participants’ motivation levels and adjust program activities, if required.)

From the various assessment formats listed above, data can be collected in the form of:

  • individual or group activity outputs
  • ratings by facilitators, peers, team members, and individuals
  • feedback by facilitators, peers, and team members
  • recorded interactions or log files, such as discussion forums, chats, whiteboard activities, videos, audio files, and transcripts
  • change reports or periodical digests from the online learning environment or software.

These data can be collected and managed through the learning environment itself. For example, RSS feeds can help facilitators monitor group activities and indicate when to intervene. Additionally, digital footprints can track participant or group activity. Such advances in digital tracking, data collection, and monitoring tools reduce the task of managing data for multiple groups. Moreover, if relevant data, such as contribution summaries in various discussion threads, new discussions, or top contributors, are available to participants, they feel motivated to contribute and collaborate further. 
By analyzing data from multiple sources throughout a collaborative learning program, we can guide a group or an individual on improving performance through constructive (written or verbal) feedback. A thorough assessment of data, which can be archived and retrieved later, also helps determine the effectiveness of an online collaboration program and the learning environment. 

This employee-oriented approach of learning is beneficial for organizations on multiple fronts. It provides hands-on experience in working with peers globally, learning from the success and failures of working together, and making things work when working toward a common outcome or goal. It also supports cross-cultural preferences in large organizations, leading to efficacy in operations. 

However, to sustain a collaborative learning environment, it is important that an organization’s leadership accepts it, communicates its value, drives the learning culture, and supports its implementation. This is crucial in forming a knowledge-based global workforce, which leads to shorter time to efficiency and keeps an organization ahead of its competitors. 

About the Author

Akanksha Sharma, CPLP®, has more than five years of experience as a workplace learning and development professional. She enjoys working with global conglomerates, identifying training needs, helping them envision an impactful learning, and providing relevant learning and performance solutions that empower learners and drive business results. Being a certified IT trainer, she has extensive experience in strategizing and developing enterprise application learning interventions that improve efficiency and effectiveness in small and large organizations across multiple countries and geographies. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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