Conducting Online Collaborative Learning

Thursday, April 21, 2016

This is the third post in series on how to design, conduct, and assess an effective online collaborative learning program.

To increase group cohesion and participation among diverse groups of participants in an online collaborative learning session, the role of moderator or facilitator should be that of coach or mentor. Instead of being instructors, they should promote autonomous learning and enable participants to incorporate and accommodate new knowledge and behaviors. They need to provide guidance and feedback, resolve confusion, encourage participation, and direct participants on the desired track.

Here are a few tips for conducting effective online collaborative learning sessions


  • Consider assigning a participant or a group of participants a role to play for the week’s discussion, whenever relevant. You may even assign roles such as thread manager and co-facilitator to monitor the learning progress of participants.
  • Ask reflective questions and provide reference sources related to the discussion points, whenever required. Consider including questions on the suggested readings and asking participants for opinions on building new knowledge and extracting quality responses from participants. This will help maintain motivation and participation.
  • Intervene when the topic of discussion moves away from the core discussion point or when the discussion becomes repetitive.
  • Provide feedback in a way that encourages participants to inquire, collaborate, and assess their performance.
  • Provide summaries that include different angles on the discussion points, acknowledge significant contributors, and ask related new questions (if required).
  • Don’t evaluate mastery of content only on the articulation of written exercises, because the written expression of ideas or information may not truly reflect mastery of content or improvement in knowledge.

The extent of your involvement will depend on the focus of a collaborative learning program. For example, if the focus is more on the cognitive domain than on the affective domain, then you would need to invest more time in content-related activities or assignments. Other factors that affect the extent of involvement are experience of participants with collaborative learning, content complexity, and program duration.

For an online collaborative learning program to be successful, it is important not only to conduct the sessions appropriately, but also to assess them properly. Clear assessment criteria should be defined beforehand, enabling participants to demonstrate their learning or change in behavior through reflection and collaboration.

The final post in this series will focus on assessing a collaborative learning program.

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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