One of the major challenges in distance learning is the relatively high dropout rate.
When looking for factors that increase student retention rates, we find the following:
- Quality of content
- Sense of belonging to a learning community
- Peer support
- Communication with instructor and also the level of interaction
Sources: Factors Associated With Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A Review of the Literature/Carolyn Hart; Factors Related to E-learner Dropout: Case Study of IUST Elearning Center Rostaminezhad, M.A, Mozayani, N, Norozi, D, Iziy, M.
I would like to focus on the last three factors. They emphasize that distance learning can create a sense of loneliness, lack of collaboration, and diminished communication.
Collaborative learning is an approach where two or more people work together to do a task, complete a project, or solve a problem. Unlike individual learning however, people engaged in collaborative learning capitalize on the resources and skills of team members by sharing information, evaluating ideas, monitoring each other’s work, and more. (Wikipedia)
It was Lev Vygotsky, a well-known Soviet psychologist and founder of the theory of cultural-historical psychology, who emphasized the importance of human communication in the learning process. Based on his research, the
socio-cultural approach to learning has emerged to become one of today’s leading theories.
The question is how can distance learning and collaborative learning be combined? At first glance they seem mutually exclusive. Distance learning allows students to learning anywhere, but minimizes social communication. Collaborative learning emphasizes social communication, but limits when and where students learn.
Happily, I recently witnessed how both can be combined quite effectively. As the Chief Scientist of Time To Know, I was involved in the R&D of a distance learning platform that also includes a context-sensitive discussion forum. Such a forum enables learners to collaborate around a specific paragraph or a page. This capability allows for all the benefits of distance learning while greatly minimizing the loneliness, lack of collaboration, and diminished communication.
Moreover, The Time To know platform provides a social benchmark, where each learner sees how he or she is doing at any single point as compared to the group average.
The collaborative distance learning platform also allows for single-click interaction with chat and video tools, so a learner can easily interact with another peer for academic or social support.
Everything mentioned above also applies for easy, timely, and meaningful two-way communication with the instructor.
To summarize, collaborative distance learning combines the benefits of traditional distance learning (scalability) with the advantages of face-to-face learning (collaboration and communication). No doubt about it, collaborative distance learning is the right choice for 21st century learning and training.