Tips for Sustaining Collaborative Learning


by Dipti Subramaniam, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Reinert Center

Implementing collaborative learning in the classroom is an exciting process. However, one can quickly learn that incorporating new efforts can be a daunting task for many instructors, especially for first timers. Here are four useful tips for sustaining collaborative learning in the classroom:

1. Plan

  • Think about when and how you would like to introduce a specific type of group work (e.g., large group discussions, small group panels, partnering, mind-mapping, etc.) during each phase of the course.
  • Example: For example, in an instance when an instructor is interested in gauging students’ understanding of the topic and the type of connections they are making, mind-mapping can be a useful collaborative activity. For mind-mapping, pick one topic and ask students to write up/list as many ideas connecting to the main topic. Take at least 20 minutes (depending on size of class) to list their ideas on a large white board.

2. Experiment

  • Do not be afraid to try new approaches early on in the semester. This generally will also give you an idea of what keeps the students interested, engaged, and involved.
  • Example: Do not wait until mid-semester to start using group activities. Change one traditional lecture to incorporate a different type of group activity within the first few weeks of class. Be sure to prepare students with expectations beforehand, especially if they will need to come to class with specific preparation.

3. Set rules

  • Establish appropriate guidelines and evaluation tools for contribution and participation for group activities as well as assignments.
  • Example: Ask students to sign a contract (i.e. Memorandum of Agreement) stating that they will be responsible in completing the specific duties expected for their particular role in the group activities. Also, using evaluation tools such as self-assessment and peer assessment forms helps student learning and accountability in collaborative learning.

4. Reward

  • Create a structure that allows students to be recognized for their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Example: Take the time after group activities to acknowledge students’ effort and work. As the instructor, you can acknowledge your students by providing specific feedback, words of encouragement, and support to motivate them as they work together.

groups of students working together with a marker board full of different colored post it notes.

Image source:

“Teamwork Win.” Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 22 July 2014. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/8090949780/in/photolist-fKQiPx-djYeu9-fJHY4s-fJrrjz-fJrrjB-6DooxG-fKQiKD-2J9J8G-fPMrk5-fPMr9W-bwPCM-8PaNHU-7A1y5v-8QSYWZ-4BQ4RJ-fJrr4V-4mnXV9-fJHXxQ-fL7UwU-fKQjfR-fKQiSp-fJrqHz-fJHYf9-fJrqQx-fL7U7s-fJrq6D-fJHXqC-fJHXrJ-fJrrgH-fJHXJq-fJHXyU-fJHYco-fJHXX5-fKQjWp-7VjTLs-2JATjc-9kd6eQ-eUrmgj-ioMHVR-9mD6Hr-bsiJnY-6rz2kr-64qaiW-bhrAqD-4Y4M66-xkiu4-2J9LwN-XfkEJ-4fUspW-ioMnEm/>.

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