Collaborative approaches to Learning

Topics: Educational psychology, Learning, Cognitive load Pages: 8 (2214 words) Published: November 11, 2013
To what extent do you agree with COLLABORATIVE APPROACHES to learning?

In recent decades collaborative learning theory has emerged at the forefront of contemporary learning approaches. An evolution from traditional individualistic and independent learning approaches, to that of cooperation and interdependence, is challenging and changing the face of learning at its very core. It is the assertion of this essay to provide evidence in the support of collaborative learning as an effective and efficient learning approach, whilst noting that some fundamental flaws exist, however, in its inherency. The following essay will explore the relevance and validity of collaborative learning by examining its origins as rooted in theories supposed by theorists such as Vygotsky; coining such concepts as the ‘zone of proximal development’, and Tinsley and Lebak who expanded this theory to encompass the ‘zone of reflective capacity’. This research is further substantiated and built upon with investigations into cognitive capacity expansion via the sharing of cognitive tasks, as depicted by Swellers ‘load theory’. As collaborative learning is a fusion of both constructivist learning theory and social learning theory, by its very nature collaborative learning approaches foster not just cognitive, but also social learning outcomes. This essay will thus also provide evidence in support of the social outcomes achieved by implementing collaborative learning approaches, including both special education/remedial benefits, and cross-race relational benefits. Not all scholarly research into collaborative learning theory, however, supports its effectiveness and validity within learning contexts. This essay will explore the contraindications collaborative learning approaches may have on learners with specific learning styles; introverts, whom may be disadvantaged and disenfranchised by such learning approaches.

Evaluating the origins of Collaborative Learning theory

In order to substantiate the relevance and validity of collaborative learning, its very origins need first be examined and evaluated. The concept of collaborative learning stems from research conducted by the twentieth century Soviet psychologist, Vygotsky (1896-1934). Vygotsky introduced the notion of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD). This concept asserts that there is a gap or ‘zone’ between what a learner can accomplish unaided, and what can be accomplished via the input and assistance of others. It was Vygotsky’s assertion that it is the role of educators to provide students with experiences within their ZPD to engender a more deep and substantial sense of learning and achievement (1978). Although not dubbed by Vygotsky, the term ‘scaffolding’ has become synonymous with the concept of ZPD also as it describes the support structures that embrace a students learning journey in its infancy and enables relevant and meaningful learning to take place within an individual’s range of competence (Wood et. al., 1976). Therefore, by comparing and measuring a learners’ ability to problem solve both aided and unaided, as opposed to simply measuring knowledge retention, a more accurate identification of intelligence can be deducted (Vygotsky, 1978). Building upon this premise, Tinsley and Lebak identified the ‘zone of reflective capacity’ which defines more specifically how collaboration with peers who share similar goals and objectives, as well as trust and mutual understanding, can aid in expanding and deepening one’s reflective capacity. As learners participate in common activities and engage in positive interactions with one another, each individuals reflective capacities expands (2009).

Cognitive load theory and cognitive capacity expansion

Cognitive load theory (Sweller, 1988) suggests that an individual’s capacity to learn is constrained by an architecture that consists of both long term memory (LTM) and working memory (WM), and that in order to overcome an individual’s...

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