Group vs. Collaborative Learning: Knowing the Difference Makes a Difference

Posted on: Faculty Focus
Date: February 5th, 2018

Five years ago, I transitioned from a totally lecture-based classroom to a more student-centered, engaging one. Initially, I found that when students were placed in groups, they didn’t necessarily work together. What I discovered was that the activities needed to be structured collaboratively to promote learning.

Group work vs. collaborative learning

Definitions of group work and collaborative learning abound, and they are not exclusive of each other. One of the most useful explanations I have found of collaborative learning comes from Smith and MacGregor (1992): “Activities may differ considerably, but focus on students’ exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it.”  Group work is often described as a good way to improve productivity by delegating tasks. However, this gives rise to what I refer to as the “divide and conquer” mentality (students who complete only a portion of the workload and then share answers with their group).  Group work is also reported to be a way to incorporate different perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and skill sets, but in my experience, the same could be said for collaborative learning.

Read more about Group vs. Collaborative Learning here