How to help your learners to collaborate more effectively

How to help your learners to collaborate more effectively

Collaboration is widely acknowledged as a key 21st century skill and one that is highly valued by universities and employers. We take a look at how you can encourage collaboration in the classroom. Why is collaboration an important skill? Being able to collaborate and work...

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Collaboration is widely acknowledged as a key 21st century skill and one that is highly valued by universities and employers. We take a look at how you can encourage collaboration in the classroom.

Why is collaboration an important skill?

Being able to collaborate and work effectively in a team or group situation is widely acknowledged as a key 21st century skill and one that is highly valued by universities and employers.

With the world of work increasingly crossing international borders and often involving teams dispersed over thousands of miles, it’s not uncommon for people to be working on a project together when they are in completely different offices, cities or even countries. And many international businesses are keen to collaborate with people from other cultural, educational and social backgrounds to support diversity within their work forces and ensure their products are more attractive to the global market.

As today’s learners will graduate into this global workplace, they will need to demonstrate strong collaboration and communication skills in order to first secure employment and then to make progress in their roles. In many cases, they’ll need to both manage a team and work as part of one, identify when and how to share ideas, demonstrate flexibility and the ability to compromise and develop skills to respectfully communicate with all team members.

Yet according to a survey by Hart Research Associates, 83% of employers rate collaboration, or teamwork, as very important for recent graduates while only 37% perceive new graduates as well prepared to work in teams.

What do we mean by collaboration?

Collaboration is a social skill involving people working together in order to achieve a common goal – it requires coordination and interdependence across team members and within it are three important sub-skills:

  1. Interpersonal communication – how learners relate to and communicate with each other
  2. Task management – how learners approach, plan and deliver a collaborative – or group – task or project
  3. Conflict resolution – how learners resolve conflict such as differing opinions in delivering that task.

4 strategies for teaching collaboration

1. Teach collaboration explicitly – explicitly training your learners in how to work together can have an impact on the performance of the group overall. Teach them desirable behaviours and useful strategies for collaboration and give them opportunities to practise with feedback.

2. Incorporate different aspects of collaboration into your lessons – think about the three key sub skills of collaboration you want your students to master – interpersonal communication, task management and conflict resolution – and design your group projects to include these three sub skills.

3. Match learning tasks to your instructional goals – at the lowest level, set tasks or activities where learners participate in their group but don’t coordinate. At this level they’re practising interpersonal skills only. A mid level activity will involve learners having to work together to coordinate individual actions in order to complete the task. At this level, task management and interpersonal skills are required to ‘divide and conquer’ tasks. And at the highest level, set tasks or activities where your learners are required to resolve major conflict to complete the group task. This level requires sophisticated interpersonal skills and task management as learners will need to make a plan to resolve the conflict, then work together in order to deliver a successful outcome.

4. Scaffold learner practice using the ‘I do, we do, you do’ model – you’re probably familiar with this model but here’s an example  involving teaching learners how to disagree politely in an ELT context. In this scenario, your learners will need you to provide them with the language they require and guidance on how to modulate their voice and control their expressions in a polite disagreement. The first step is to model it (the ‘I do’), then the next step is to invite learners into a collaborative scenario where you model with them the language and behaviour you have introduced (the ‘we do’). In the final stage (the ‘you do’), you set up an activity where you step back and allow your learners to apply the language and strategy you have introduced. The goal here is get your learners to model the polite disagreement spontaneously.

Want to learn more about teaching and assessing collaboration?

Find sample learning tasks in our free guide Ways to integrate collaboration skills into primary and secondary education.

Read our Skills for Today report: What we know about teaching and assessing collaboration and this 3-page summary for educators.

Want to know more about how to teach and assess collaboration skills? Watch our Our Human Talents webinar on collaboration and check out the full series of Our Human Talents: Personal and Social Capabilities webinars which takes a deeper dive into the full range of transferable skills we have identified as crucial for future employability.

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