9.3 Online Collaborative Learning

At this point in learning about leadership within learning organizations, the impact that technology has, and will continue to have, on learning organizations in the future cannot be overstated. This supports the need for an understanding of collaboration and teamwork within a technological environment. Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) is defined as a model of learning where students are supported to work together, create knowledge, invent, innovate, and develop conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems[8], all while engaging in modern technology and using it collaboratively. Since the commercialization of high-speed Internet in the 1990’s, online-collaborative learning became a studied phenomenon. Within learning organizations, such as universities, online components are integrated in the every-day life of a university student. One of the most common uses is online-discussion boards between classmates and the instructor. Here are some characteristics of an online-discussion board[8]:

  • text based, not oral
  • asynchronous: can log on anywhere, at any time, and be involved (as opposed to the synchronous method of the classic university lecture)
  • threaded conversation to enhance learning through diverse options, creating dynamic sub-topics

A discussion board outlines how learning is done through an online setting and follows the core design principles of OCL. These principles are outlined as follows[9]:

  1. Idea generating: brainstorming and divergent thinking in a group.
  2. Idea organizing: learners compare, analyze, and categorize different ideas.
  3. Intellectual convergence: learners reach a level of synthesis, understanding, and consensus.

When we developing an understanding about the core principles, the use of enacting mastery similar to the divergent method of experiential learning is noticed. Problem and inquiry-based methods are introduced in OCL through the use of technology and develop thinking, analysis, and consensus through a different method of transmission. Within learning organizations, it may be beneficial to incorporate alternate styles within the technology in order to develop what learning works best for all students. However, when making the learning divergent and involved, either online or in-person, learning will be achieved.

Of course, some are still hesitant to say OCL is the answer to advanced learning. Some feel that the introduction of technology creates this dooms-day effect that renders human teachers useless.  This is not the case, as the goal of OCL is not to replace teachers, but to enhance the communication between teachers and learners[9]. However, it would be remiss to say there are potential limitations to OCL, and to be cognizant of when using this method is best for learners.


OCL Pros OCL Cons
  • produce deep and transformative learning.
  • scaffold learning, leading to higher order thinking.
  • embrace diverse viewpoints from a multitude of sources, providing an enhanced learning experience.
  • to be used effectively, leaders and learners need to be educated in the technology.
  • lack of emphasis leading to a lack of cohesion.
  • lack of involvement will lower the amount of sources leading to a fractured learning experience.

Whether the method works, or not, the question depends on how the learning community responds to the implementation. After a trial run of OCL, students can discuss how it is functioning for them.  One of the best ways to achieve this is to engage in a reflection with classmates discussing OCL in a start-stop-continue format. This way, learners can have feedback on what is working with OCL, what is not working, and what can be implemented to make it better. Receiving feedback does not only help the students, it develops the abilities as leaders to respond to problems and solve them effectively.



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Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations Copyright © by Clayton Smith; Carson Babich; and Mark Lubrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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