Collaborative Learning

According to Barkley and Cross (2014) collaborative learning involves pairs or small interactive groups, and features: (1) intentional design, (2) co-laboring, in which all participants must engage actively in working together toward stated objectives, and (3) the pursuit of meaningful learning. 

Collaborative Learning Resources

Michaelson (1997-1998) identified three fundamental principles for the success of learning groups: 

  • promoting individual and group accountability,  
  • using assignments that link and mutually reinforce individual work, group work, and total class discussions, and  
  • adopting practices that stimulate give-and-take interaction within and between groups. 

Brame and Biel (2015) provide some best practices at different stages of the group process for successful group work. See their guide to using cooperative learning groups effectively for detailed suggestions and examples.  

  • Prepare 
  • Articulate your goals for the group work, including both the academic objectives you want the students to achieve and the social skills you want them to develop. 
    •    Determine the group conformation that will help meet your goals. 
    •    Choose an assessment method that will promote positive group interdependence as well as individual accountability. 
    •    Help groups get started 
  • Explain the group’s task, including your goals for their academic achievement and social interaction. 
    •    Explain how the task involves both positive interdependence and individual accountability, and how you will be assessing each. 
    •    Assign group roles or give groups prompts to help them articulate effective ways for interaction.  
    •    Monitor group work by regularly observing group interactions and progress. 
  • Provide a structure for groups to reflect on what worked well in their group and what could be improved.  

Team-based learning (TBL), a type of collaborative learning, incorporates both the case method and problem based learning and has been widely adopted in the sciences and health care disciplines. In recent years business disciplines have also discovered the value of this approach (Timmerman and Morris, 2015). Michaelsen and Sweet (2008) identified four essential elements of TBL: 

  • Groups must be properly formed and managed 
  • Students must be accountable for the quality of their individual and group work 
  • Students must receive frequent and timely feedback 
  • Group assignments must promote both learning and team development 

Among the principles of TBL are: 

  • Group work is most effective when students are asked to converge their diverse thinking in making a single, collective decision, much like a deliberative body. 
  • Students learn best and are more motivated when feedback is frequent and immediate. The groups increase opportunities for frequent, immediate feedback and reflection among peers. 
  • Because groups need time together to learn to function as a team, TBL uses permanently-assigned groups. 
  • Because groups that function effectively need very little instructor oversight or management. TBL is a more efficient use of an instructor’s time and can be scaled to classes of any size (Vancouver Island University, n.d.). 

Key elements of a typical TBL sequence over two to four class are: 

  • Group formation 
  • A substantial reading assignment (outside of class) 
  • Graded individual “readiness assessment” test on the reading (in class) 
  • Graded team “readiness assessment” test (in class) 
  • Appeal of “readiness assessment” results 
  • Short (mini-) Lecture, if needed, to clarify confusion made visible by the tests 
  • Team responses to cases, problems, applications, etc., all using the material in the initial reading  
  • Peer assessment (Vancouver Island University, n.d.). 

Getting Started with TBL, sponsored by the Team-Based Learning Collaborative, is a guide for preparing for and implementing TBL, including articles and videos. (Some features require paid registration.) 


Barkley, E., Major, C., & Cross, K. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass. 

Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved from 

Michaelson, L.K. (1997-1998). Three Keys to Using Groups Effectively. In Professional and Organizational Development Network Essay Series Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy (Volume 9). 

Michaelsen, L.K. and Sweet, M.  (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning(116 ), 7–27.… 

Timmerman, J.E. and Morris, R.F. (2015). Creation of Exercises for Team-Based Learning in Business. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 27(2), 280-291 Retrieved from 

Vancouver Island University. (n.d.) What is Team-Based Learning? A quick guide for busy faculty members. Retrieved from