Interactive/Collaborative Activities

Interactive and collaborating learning activities are tremendously effective in helping student deepen their knowledge of your course content. As learners manipulate critical concepts between the abstract and the concrete by way of discussions and problem-solving, they also develop transferable argumentative skills, as well as critical and creative thinking. In sum, interactive and collaborating learning activities transform textbook knowledge into actionable skills and fluency that are applicable in real-life contexts. On this page, instructors will learn about…

  • the benefits of adapting interactive and collaborative learning activities in their course
  • the theoretical and empirical bases of interactive collaborative learning activities
  • the role of the instructor when creating and conducting interactive and collaborative learning activities
  • the benefits and shortcomings of interactive and collaborative learning activities
  • how to create and implement an interactive and collaborative learning activity in their course

Instructors can download the Thought Process Template for Developing Interactive and Collaborative Learning Activities and use it to create and adapt activities according to the context of their course.

Video #

Why should students engage in interactive and collaborative learning activities? #

Karchmer-Klein et al. (2019) state that interaction is about exchanging ideas and perspectives with others. Collaboration is how group members negotiate, share, and construct meaning in response to stimuli. Trentin (2019) found that learners’ motivation and engagement improve with increased visibility of their work and the opportunities to express creativity through collaborative online activities.

According to Bates (2019) and Asubel et al. (1978), to have a meaningful learning experience, learners must go beyond memorizing content and superficial comprehension of facts, ideas and principles. To develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, they need to interact and collaborate with fellow learners and the instructor under the subject matter, engage in discussions and apply the concepts and skills in problem-solving activities. The design of learning activities must create a context with learners’ needs as a starting point and focus on developing transferable analytical or critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These learning activities also harness social interaction and communication skills through real-time discussions. Such discussions should focus on the analysis, synthesis, comparison or evaluation of the content knowledge. At the end of the activity, ask each group to submit a short written summary for assessment.

Interactive and collaborative learning activities can be adapted into problem-based, case-based learning, project-based learning, cooperative (work- or community-based) learning. Each type of adaptation emphasizes a different aspect of learning, format and social interactions.

Pedagogical theories and research on interactive and collaborative learning activities #

“Constructionists believe that knowledge is mainly acquired through social processes which are necessary to move students beyond surface learning to deeper levels of understanding… Connectivist’s approaches to learning also place heavy emphasis on networking learners, with all participants learning through interaction and discussion between each other, driven both by their interests and the extent to which these interests connect to the interests of other participants” (Bates 2019: 120).

Karchmer-Klein et al. (2019) studied whether and how digital tools are leveraged to create interactive and collaborative learning activities in online programs. This study highlights the importance of providing explicit instructions on how learners should interact with others. Thoughtful instructional design is critical to the success of the learning activity. Instructors need to facilitate interactivity by offering opportunities to apply content knowledge and analyze their actions. For example, in a case-study discussion, instructors might consider guiding learners through the process by asking scaffolding questions. Additionally, the use of digital tools should provide learners with the flexibility to report on their experience through multiple accessible modes (e.g. written report, video or audio recordings, portfolios, etc.). Finally, collaboration is enhanced when learners work in smaller groups and have enough time to complete their tasks.

The role of the instructor #

Laurillard (2001) and Harasim (2017) indicate that “academic knowledge requires students to move constantly from the concrete to the abstract and back again, and to build or construct knowledge based on academic criteria such as logic, evidence, and argument. Interactive and collaborative learning activities require a strong teacher presence within a dialectical environment, in which the instructor encourages and develops argument and discussion within the rules and criteria of the subject discipline” (Bates 2019:120). In these activities, the instructor’s role is to help learners enhance their fluency in applying the intended knowledge and skills in contexts that mimic the real-life experience in authentic settings. To do so, the instructor must be mindful of how learners apply their problem-solving skills, critical and creative thinking skills to deepen their knowledge of the subject matter. Additionally, the instructor is continuously involved with the learning process, and assessment is ongoing. Learners will benefit significantly from frequent and immediate feedback from the instructor, which helps correct any misconceptions. Finally, learning outcomes for such activities should clearly describe the targeted behaviour and specify recognizable waypoints.

Benefits and shortcomings of interactive and collaborative learning activities #

Benefits Shortcomings
  • develop a deeper understanding of the content knowledge through interaction
  • increased effort in the initial design of learning activity
  • develop transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical and creative thinking
  • the instructor needs to be skillful in guiding the discussion process and dealing with unexpected developments
  • opportunity to demonstrate the target learning outcome and guide learners through the thought process
  • opportunity for continuous feedback and identification of misconceptions

Creating an interactive and collaborative learning activity #

The following questions will guide instructors through the thought process of creating an interactive and collaborative learning activity. Instructors can also download the Thought Process Template for Developing Interactive and Collaborative Learning Activities to work through the process independently or with an instructional designer. Sample answers are provided for an interactive and collaborative activity adapted from an introductory English Language and Linguistics course.

  1. Learning outcomes: By the end of this activity, students should be able to … (think of a list of actions students can perform to demonstrate that they have acquired the intended skills/knowledge)
  2. What are the situational factors that affect how I would organize the interactive and collaborative learning activity? (e.g., class size, classroom configuration, learners’ background knowledge on the subject matter, academic and communication skills, course level (1st year vs. 4th year), how does this course relate to others in the program?)
  3. How would I assess whether students have achieved the learning outcomes or not? Are there recognizable learning milestones that will allow me to identify where my students are and evaluate how well my students are achieving the learning outcomes?
  4. In addition to content knowledge, what other transferable skills do I intend to instill?
  5. What kind of background/previous knowledge should students develop to facilitate the interactive and collaborative learning activity?
  6. What educational technology can I integrate this activity with? Will this integration enhance the outcome of the activity? Is the technology simple to use? How well can students use the technology to complete the activity?
  7. What is the role of the instructor in this activity? (e.g. leader, facilitator, coach)

References #

Ausubel, D., Novak, J., & Hanesian, H. (1978). Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View (2nd Ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Bates, A. W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (Links to an external site.). Open Education Resource, Contact Nord.

Bright Hub Education (2021). Designing Interactive Learning Activities: Unleashing Your Inner Creative Teacher. []

Harasim, L. (2017) Learning Theory and Online Technologies. New York/London: Taylor and Francis.

Karchmer-Klein, R., Soslau, E., & Sutton, J. (2019). Examining the instructional design of interactive and collaborative learning opportunitiesJournal of Teacher Action Research6(1), 4-20. 

The Knowledge Network for Innovations in Learning and Teaching (KNILT) (2021). The Department of Educational Theory and Practice, School of Education, University at Albany, SUNY.

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. New York/London: Taylor and Francis.

Lowyck, J., & Pöysä, J. (2001). Design of collaborative learning environmentsComputers in human behaviour17(5-6), 507-516.

Sluijsmans, D., Dochy, F., & Moerkerke, G. (1998). Creating a learning environment by using self-, peer-and co-assessmentLearning environments research1(3), 293-319.