in Education

How to use technology to promote collaborative learning?

Constantly emerging social media that are changing our ways of getting information also have a big impact on how we learn and what is more important, on how our students want to learn. Technology becomes a constant in their lives, unfortunately also for social interactions. That’s why I’ve decided to dig inside Computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) theory and present a possible tool that supports creative thinking and collaboration capabilities. But first some basics about CSCL.

What is CSCL?

CSCL is a pedagogical approach where group of students use a computer to browse information on the internet and to discuss, debate, gather and present what they’ve found collaboratively. CSCL arose in the 1990s in reaction to software that forced students to learn as isolated individuals (Stahl, Koschman, Suthers).

Ruth C. Clark and Richard E. Mayer define CSCL as an engagement among teams of two to approximately five members using synchronous and/or asynchronous tools in a way that it supports an instructional goal: to produce a product, resolve a case study, discuss a video example, solve assigned problems or complete an instructional worksheet.


Ruth C. Clark and Richard E. Mayer listed several benefits of CSCL. I’m pointing out some of them, which are, in my opinion, the most important ones:

  • A well designed collaborative assignment promotes deeper mental processing.
  • The group creates better products than individuals.
  • Virtual collaboration can lead to more reflection and sharing ideas than a face to face environment.
  • CSCL increases social presence.

Learning map – a tool for CSCL

There are a lot of tools that are providing communication and collaboration capabilities. I’m going to focus on a particular one – a Learning map. A Learning map is a version of the wide-known mind map, specially designed for educational purposes. We are all quite familiar with benefits of mind maps in education. According to Buzan mind maps have been used in educational area for several decades now. And using mind maps in collaborative learning is also becoming more and more popular in last few years.

Why Learning map as a collaborative tool?

A Learning map is a great tool that supports individual contribution and group engagement. I will show you how. Once a teacher creates groups of three to five students (which is the best size of the group) and assigns a task to each group, students of each group connect inside the online environment and start creating and editing a Learning map. They can do this simultaneously or separately.

A screenshot from Edynco – the Learning map tool - where teacher choose - type of assignment

A screenshot from Edynco – the Learning map tool – where teacher choose type of assignment

Each member of the group gathers information related to the specific theme. To make information understandable to the other group members, he puts a brief text explanations inside Learning map’s nodes, attaches source links and optionally adds graphics elements.

Afterward all group members can add, exchange, discuss ideas and information which they find relevant on the Learning map and complete it collaboratively. All of this can be done quickly and easily, because a Learning map gives student a whole view on one page at all times. All of that results in students’­­­­ direct engagement and motivation.

An example showing how every student creates different node. Each student has his own color.

An example showing how every student creates different node. Each student has his own color.

Once they complete their assignment, each group presents their Learning map to the whole class where they can improve their ideas by comparison, asking questions to the teacher and to their peers.

There is also a study published in Australaisan Journal of Educational Technology about A mindtool-based collaborative learning approach to enhancing students’ innovative performance in management courses that shows that students who learned with collaborative mind mapping mechanism had significantly better performance than those who learned with the conventional instructions. They also indicated the significant correlation between creativity and collaboration. And Learning map in its essence supports creative learning tasks.

Important technical guidelines for implementing Learning maps in CSCL

For implementing Learning maps in CSCL is important that a tool includes collaboration features like:

  • Real – time collaborative editing. That means that it enables multiple authors to create and edit an online Learning map.
  • 100% web-based application. This eliminates problems of installing the application locally and taking care of storing Learning maps as local files, while they are kept on the server instead.
  • Has a built-in communication tool to eliminate the use of external e-mail or chat clients.

I use Edynco’s Learning maps which can be easily implemented in CSCL. What about you, do you use any mind-mapping technique in CSCL?


  • Sandra Shill

    There is definitely some very valid and worthwhile info in this article (and I especially like that you drew on Clark and Mayer as a source), but you might want to consider getting future articles copyedited, to enhance their (and your) professional credibility. (Even the title is problematic…why is there a question mark at the end, when it’s not a question? Also, watch out for what I like to call “random acts of capitalization”…)

    Hope you take this suggestion in the sincerely helpful spirit in which it was intended!