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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 11/21/2022

What is Collaborative Learning?

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

According to Bruffee (1995), collaborative learning is "helping students learn by working together on substantive issues."  Lessons are centered on real-life problems and creating big ideas for solving one of these problems.  

Collaborative learning is one of the foundational approaches of instruction in a learner-centered classroom, and learning is improved when students have the opportunity to interact and collaborate on tasks.  By working side-by-side to solve a problem, students are engaging and learning in a community, not in isolation.  Students aren't expected to figure everything out on their own.  They can depend on the experiences and knowledge of the others in the group.

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Although planning and implementing these type of projects can be overwhelming for teachers, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.  It is focused on the students' needs, interests and abilities and promotes a sense of shared responsibility (Davis, 2012).  It enables resilience and teaches learners to look to their neighbors as a resource and that learning it's not simply about content; it's about cultivating habits of deep scholars.  Collaborative learning creates a positive school environment where students feel valued and understand that they are able to make a difference. 

Owens (2017) adds that collaborative learning includes small and large-group settings and the teacher only acts as a guide, whereas students work in small, highly structured groups with the teacher giving direct instruction in cooperative learning.  For instance, implementing a jigsaw reading activity would be an example of cooperative learning, because the teacher assigns the groups and gives specific instructions on how to complete the task.  However, in collaborative learning, the knowledge and authority are shared among the students and the teacher, and groups are flexible.

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Having integrated standards for Grade 8 English Language Development (ELD) and the Industrial Revolution and its effect on urbanization and immigration from Social Studies standards, we created a collaborative lesson plan to further develop on the needs of immigrants in our community.  Students work collaboratively to identify difficulties immigrants face, research programs that aid in these areas, and hear from guest speakers before deciding what the class can do to assist.  Students involve other members of the community and finally, complete the community service project. 

Student-centered principles are addressed in the lesson when the students are giving and receiving feedback, contributing to class discussions and decision-making by sharing their beliefs and experiences, and contributing and making an effort to the success of the project.

In addition to increased retention of content, a collaborative approach improves students' achievement, self-esteem and attitudes (Ralston, Tretter, & Kendall-Brown, 2017).  Additionally, it enhances their interpersonal skills such as communication and other social skills that will prepare them to be functioning members of society.  Cela (2015) said collaborative learning was "designed to mimic the fact that collaboration is an everyday activity."  We have to collaborate every day at our jobs and in our homes with our families.  If we aren't giving our students opportunities to experience and practice this skills, we are doing them a disservice.

What is a student-centered classroom?

When  implementing collaborative activities in class, timing is affected and content delivery will probably have to be revamped.  Collaborative learning is not focused on relaying our expertise to our students, rather teaching students how to interact with and experience the content on their own.  As a second language teacher, it seems natural to include student interaction, cooperative and collaborative work into the classroom, but how can you design a collaborative project for your students?  Determine what issues your school or community are currently facing and ask your students what can be done to help!  Leave the rest up to them! 

Want more ideas for activities you can implement in your ESL/EFL classes?  Take our 4-week TEFL course in Costa Rica to experience and collect hundreds of hours of classroom activities! 



Bruffee. (1995). Sharing our toys: Cooperative learning versus collaborative learning.

Cela. (2015). Comparison of collaboration and performance in groups of learners assembled randomly or based on learners’ topic preferences. Journal of Educational Technology & Society.

Davis. (2012). How collaborative learning leads to student success. Edutopia.  Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/stw-collaborative-learning-college-prep

Owens. (2017). American College of Education.

Ralston,  Tretter, & Kendall-Brown.  (2017). Implementing Collaborative Learning across the Engineering Curriculum.  Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

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