Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoAn Introduction to Collaboration (4:16)


Collaboration involves the instructional use of small groups to facilitate increased learning outcomes through the use of certain conditions. Collaborative learning can improve student achievement, long-term retention, higher-level reasoning, metacognitive thought, problem-solving skills, and perseverance in difficult tasks. Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) requires groups of two to five to work together on synchronous and asynchronous activities that support a learning goal. CSCL is constantly changing with additions of new platforms that allow for multiple users to interact online.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Social Interdependence

To ensure all group members actively contribute to their learning and the learning of their group members, the grade or goal of each member should be dependent on the achievement of all group members in a group. Incentives or roles can be assigned to ensure that all group members are engaged in the learning activity. In a Jigsaw method, each group member is responsible for a given topic and they are required to become an expert in the topic. The students then meet in expert groups (people who have reviewed the same topic). Finally, they bring all of their findings back to their original group and are responsible for teaching the concept.

Guideline 2 – Outcome Goals

When facilitating collaboration, educators must consider whether the goal of the collaboration is for project quality or individual learning. Collaborative learning does not necessarily result in both of these goals simultaneously, as it depends on a variety of variables including the type of learning and group size. When the goal requires creativity or problem-based learning, virtual collaboration results in the best quality outcomes, as learners have the opportunity to reflect upon the activity. In regards to group size, pairs can better support the goal of individual learning, where groups of three to five support project quality. Educators must determine the goal of collaboration so that they can structure their collaboration approaches to best meet the desired goal.

Guideline 3 – Quality of Collaboration Discussion

Collaborative learning relies on effective dialog amongst all participants in a group, which promotes an increased depth of processing. Group members should build off of the statements of others, pose or answer questions, and challenge or clarify what has already been said.

Guideline 4 – Groupings

Careful consideration should be given when creating groups, in terms of which learners to place in a group together and the size of groupings. Collaborative learning is most effective when groups are comprised of learners with both high prior knowledge and low prior knowledge or learners with all high prior knowledge.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – G Suite for Education

G Suite for Education is a platform that includes many different applications including Docs, Slides, Sites, and Hangouts. All applications allow multiple users to contribute to documents or presentations and provide and receive feedback. All applications provide opportunities for users to engage in discussions through chats, comments, and audio calls.

Example 2 – Explain Everything

Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard that allows users to create presentations and videos that can be uploaded to YouTube or shared on Google Drive. Explain Everything allows multiple users to collaborate on a project on the same devices or several devices. Users can utilize the voice chat feature to enhance virtual dialog.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Collaboration in Online Learning Communities

A book, written by Donatella Persico and Francesca Pozzi, examines strategies and techniques that can be used to enhance online collaboration.

Resource 2 – The Jigsaw Method

A video that describes a collaborative learning strategy that can be used in a face-to-face learning environment or an e-learning setting, known as the Jigsaw Method.

Resource 3 – A Review and Critique of Online Collaboration

A literature review of the use of collaborative learning in online university courses, accompanied by a critique of collaborative learning.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R.E. (2011). Learning together virtually. In R. Taff (Ed.), E-learning and the science of instruction (pp. 279-306). Wiley.

Lou, Y., Abrami, P., & D’apollonia, S. (2001). Small Group and Individual Learning with Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71(3), 449–521.

Resta, P., & Laferrière, T. (2007). Technology in support of collaborative learning. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 65–83.


Submitted by: Sarah Baillie
Twitter: @MsBaillie_
Bio: I am an elementary Occasional Teacher with York Region District School Board and Durham Catholic District School Board. I am currently enrolled in the Master of Education program at Ontario Tech University, with an interest in integrating technologies into the classroom.



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