Instructional Design Principles

26 The Collaboration Principle


Watch overview videoAn Introduction to the Instructional Design Principle: Collaboration (4:41)


Collaboration is an instructional design principle whereby groups of learners work together to complete specific tasks, solve problems, partake in discussion, and learn from one another’s thinking, views, and ideas. Individuals may work together in a traditional, face-to-face environment or computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment, either synchronously or asynchronously (Clark & Mayer, 2011; Kirschner, Paas, & Kirschner, 2009). The collaboration process involves discussion, argumentation, and reflection regarding the task at hand, which can lead to deeper processing of the information, resulting in more meaningful learning (Kirschner et al., 2009). In order for collaboration to be effective, group members must actively communicate and interact with one another and share similar intentions of establishing a common focus and achieving a desired goal (Beers, Boshuizen, Kirschner, & Gijselaers, 2006).

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Social Interdependence

In order to ensure that each team member is purposely contributing to the collaborative group, the learning and grade outcome of each learner in the group should be dependent, in part, on the learning and accomplishment of the individual’s teammates (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Educators must keep in mind the incentives for each learner to interact, participate, and support the learning of the rest of their group members. For example, an educator teaching a Science class may have students work in groups to complete a particular task. In order to ensure each student is participating and everyone is doing their fair share of work, the teacher may provide or allow students to take on a specific role within the group. The learning of the group and the mark given would be dependent on the completion of each part assigned to each individual. It is important, however, to make certain that the roles assigned to members of the group require collaboration rather than individual completion, as this would defeat the purpose of group work. Careful consideration and planning on the educators part is required.

Guideline 2 – Quality of Collaborative Dialogue

Collaborative learning activities must involve communication by all members of a group where each member builds upon the contributions of the other members, clarifies or challenges ideas, and asks and answers mutual questions (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Rather than regurgitating what they already know, learners must critically think and contribute ideas that may expand each other’s knowledge (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Therefore, educators must create instructional conditions that inspire and require in-depth, quality dialogue. Providing students with a model of how effective groups function may prompt meaningful discussion (TeachThought, 2020). This model may include initiating discussion, clarifying points, summarizing, challenging assumptions, providing or researching information, and reaching a consensus (TeachThought, 2020). It is important for educators to provide students with activities or problems that are not too easy but rather, spark curiosity and engagement, with relevance to the learners.

Guideline 3 — Incorporate Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Problem-based learning involves collaboration in which students work together to solve a real-world problem. Howard Barrows, who was involved in the development of PBL at McMaster University describes it as student-centred, taking place in small groups, whereby the teacher acts as the facilitator and group work is organized around a problem (Graaff & Kolmos, 2003). The type of problem is dependent on the curriculum expectations of a particular subject and can be created by the teacher or can be constructed by groups of students after being given a particular topic. Students are required to come to a consensus on solution(s) to the problem and later present their problem and accompanying solution(s) to the whole class to spark discussion around the problem. Teachers can apply PBL to any subject. For example, in a Grade 8 History class, a teacher can divide students into groups and provide them with the topic of Global Inequalities or a problem pertaining to this topic. Students will communicate, research, and pose solutions to the problem, present their material in an organized way (ex. Prezi), and share their findings and ideas with the class. This activity may take one or multiple classes depending on the complexity of the problem and the learning abilities of the students. Checking in with students’ progress may help to establish a time frame.

Guideline 4 — Utilize Web 2.0 Tools for Collaboration

Allowing students to utilize Web 2.0 Tools to collaborate with others is an engaging and meaningful way to incorporate technology into the classroom. Collaborative tools such as Google Docs, AdobeConnect, Knowledge Forum, and Canvas are platforms that allow for collaboration through discussion both written and verbal. Students can work on activities simultaneously, while utilizing the World Wide Web to complete research. Utilizing Web 2.0 tools allows students to practice how to effectively and safely communicate online as the use of technology is integral to many career paths. For example, a teacher may have groups of students work together utilizing a tool of their choice, such as Google Slides, to create a presentation on a particular learning strand. It is crucial for educators to introduce netiquette and safe Internet use before the introduction of Web 2.0 tools into the classroom.

Guideline 5 — Collaborative Learning Process as part of Assessment

Assessment for learning involves the process of understanding where learners are at in their learning, where learners are going, and how best to get them there. Assessment as learning involves the process whereby students assess their own learning, the learning of their peers, and their group’s learning. As students collaborate with others, it is important to use assessment for and as learning to provide students with appropriate feedback to be utilized to enhance their group work experience. Allowing students to reflect on their learning and their role as a member of a collaborative group as well as reflect on the work of their group, students are able to take necessary steps to improve their role and enhance their learning. This type of assessment should be done throughout the process of learning and working in a group rather than at the end of a finished task. Checking in on students while they work, giving them opportunities to reflect on their learning through checklists, rubrics, reflection journals and allowing groups time to discuss how the collaborative process is going and how they may proceed for the betterment of the group, are ways to accomplish this.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Edmodo 

Edmodo is an educational website that provides students a platform to communicate, share ideas, share documents, create polls, create and edit assignments, provide feedback, and other features that are conducive to collaborative learning. Teachers can use this site to keep track of their students’ work and provide feedback to learners when needed. This platform can be used by learners both at school or at home, allowing for synchronous and asynchronous contributions.

Example 2 – G Suite

G Suite is comprised of a number of Google Apps that make collaboration simple and effective. These Apps include Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Hangouts, Drive, Forms, and Google Classroom. Students and educators are able to use these Apps to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously and work on tasks simultaneously, sharing their ideas and work with one another in a group of learners. Educators and students are easily able to provide feedback to one another through these platforms.

Example 3 — Fleep

Fleep is a communication application that includes built-in collaboration tools to allow groups of learners to communicate online through messaging and virtual online meetings. Students are able to use private group messaging to work exclusively with their groups members. This application supports students in discussing their group tasks, making suggestions, sharing ideas and links, uploading files, and providing feedback.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Video on Collaborative Learning by Maddie Edwards

Maddie Edwards, a high school student at Woodgrove High School and the Academies of Loudoun in Purcellville, Virginia discusses her experience with collaboration and and how to create a better future through collaborative learning.

Resource 2 – Theory and Practice of Online Collaborative Learning

This book by Tim S. Roberts takes an in-depth look at computer-mediated collaborative learning.

Resource 3 – Collaboration Tools for Learning Online

This article discusses collaboration and online learning. It includes examples of collaboration tools that can be used for educational purposes.


Beers, P. J., Boshuizen, H. P. A., Kirschner, P. A., & Gijselaers, W. H. (2006). Common  ground, complex problems and decision making. Group Decision and Negotiation,15(6), 529–556.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R.E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction. San   Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Clifford, M. (2020, February 3). 20 collaborative learning tips and strategies for teachers. [Web log post].  TeachThought. Retrieved from

Graaff, E.D., & Kolmos, A. (2003). Characteristics of problem-based learning. International Journal of Engineering Education, 19(5), 657-662.  Available from 

Kirschner, F., Paas, F.G.W.C., & Kirschner, P.A. (2009). A cognitive load approach to  collaborative learning: United brains for complex tasks. Educational Psychology Review, 21, 31–42.


Submitted by: Chelsea Santoli
Twitter: @ChelseaSantoli2
Bio: I am currently an Occasional Teacher with Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board and York Region District School Board. I am completing a Master of Education and Digital Technology degree through Ontario Tech University. I am a lifelong learner and passionate educator interested in utilizing technology to enhance the learning experience of my students.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

E-Learning Essentials 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book