A Cross-cultural Examination of Conditions that make Collaborative Learning Effective

Project Number
SUG 12/14 MK

Project Duration
November 2014 - September 2015


Singapore (Drs. Manu Kapur and Rachel Lam) and France (Dr Hugo Mercier) aimed at examining conditions that make collaborative learning effective. Collaborative learning has been identified as a key 21st century skill, both locally and internationally (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006; MOE, Singapore, 2013). Collaborative learning is also part of one of LSL’s and OER’s strategic research niche of Student Generated Designs. Therefore, building up a research trajectory on understanding the dynamics of collaborative learning and its use is critical. Although research on collaborative learning is extensive, it is not trivial for collaborative learning to yield maximum benefits (Slavin, 1996). Research has therefore moved away from the question of whether collaboration is effective to an exploration of conditions under which it is maximally so (Kapur & Rummel, 2009). Previous studies on collaborative learning had found it to yield substantial improvements in students’ academic achievements (e.g., Slavin, 1996). One of the main reasons perhaps lays in the positive effect argumentation has on students’ reasoning (Mercier, 2011). During a group discussion, students do not automatically accept each other’s answers, they tend to carefully examine most of the arguments offered and learning takes place in the process of consolidating different views. Moreover, having to explain one’s answer often leads to deeper learning. So, even students who are already doing well formerly benefit from the group discussion. Most importantly, it is also in this cycle of offering opinions, seeking feedback, and reviewing opinions that vital soft skills such as negotiation, openness to different perspectives, and cooperation are promoted. The outcomes of collaborative learning are well established; thus it is worthwhile to look into the processes leading to these successes. For example, if a student who found the right answer faces a unanimous majority defending a wrong answer; will he/she be willing to challenge the majority’s opinion? Or, if some students find the problem very difficult and have no time to develop an answer (not even a flawed one), will they be easily convinced during the group discussion to accept any answer, even if it is not the good one? Moreover, the current study also aims to employ Productive Failure framework to explore the effects of engagement with the problem prior to group discussion on the outcome of group discussion, in order to further underline the conditions which students will benefit most from collaborative learning.

Funding Source

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