Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Collaborative and Transformative Learning

According to Palloff and Pratt (2007), collaborating in an online learning course implies expanding learning experiences, trying out new ideas and sharing them with the group, additionally to giving and receiving critical and constructive feedback. The main advantages that I see in this type of learning has to do with the opportunities for students to negotiate different aspects of their own learning processes as long as the instructor designs the course in such a way that allows it to happen.

Collaborative learning provides students with opportunities to develop a sense of shared goals which in the long run will involve them in a unified effort to meet them. Also, it permits students to develop a sense of belonging to a learning community when they have the opportunity to introduce themselves and share with the others their expectations, their fears, their limitations and so on.

In addition to this, collaborative learning promotes in students the involvement of their own real-life experiences in the contents of the course so as to make it more meaningful and contextualized. This can be achieved by having students solve real life problems and connecting topics to their real situations.

These characteristics of “Collaborative learning” can be easily applied to language teaching and learning. In its basic definition, language implies communication and negotiation of meaning, and this has a lot to do with collaborative learning as it has been established before. An online learning community is the best scenario for the development of a second language in a meaningful context. It provides the possibility for the exchange of information by employing communicative skills such as reading and writing. Regarding listening and speaking, the tutor may utilize forms of synchronous communication such as video conferences. It is up to the tutor to design activities and tasks that really meet the learners’ expectations and needs and place them into meaningful contexts which require the contribution of all learners in a balanced way.

On the other hand, “transformative learning” as stated by Palloff and Pratt (Idem) basically entails a continuous process of self-reflection about learners’ own progress. It may lead them to think about what they are learning, how they are learning and the instruments they employ to reach their goals. Concerning language teaching and learning, this can be adapted by implementing a scaffold online program in which students have to go back and forth in contents and strategies so as to facilitate a reflection process in which they have to analyze what they need to access a higher step in the command of the language. Also, by establishing a reflecting instrument such as blog portfolio in which they register the main activities carried out in the course to have the possibility to track their advancement in the different skills.

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