Publish at May 05 2020 Updated August 22 2022

Collaborate remotely in training - Models

For knowledge in co-construction

The pedagogical approach adopted in distance learning leaves  an increasingly important part to collaborative work. Indeed, the learner occupies a central position that gives him a new role, new skills.    The act of learning in such a type of device is no longer done in isolation but also by integrating a place in the community of peers. The collective is thus reinforced. This article aims to bring   some basic insights related to the collaborative approach in distance learning: its values, its main principles, its contributions in learning, its implementation.  

As a reminder

Collaborative learning draws its sources from the constructivist theory which places the learner as the master of his learning. As such, the learner will not only be the actor in the process of constructing his or her knowledge but will also construct knowledge with his or her peers in the learning community. 

F. Henry and K. Lundgren-Cayrol define collaborative learning as "an active, learner-centered approach. Within a group, and in an appropriate environment, learners express their ideas, articulate their thoughts, develop their own representations, elaborate their cognitive structures, and socially validate their new knowledge. The collaborative approach recognizes the individual and collective dimensions of learning, encourages interaction, and exploits the distributed cognitions within the environment. The group, the main actor, acts as a catalyst and is the primary resource for the collaboration. It plays a supportive and motivational role. 

Collaborative distance learning 

The principle of the 7 values of collaborative learning was advanced by Lebow.  

In collaborative learning,the level of autonomy will determine the level of collaboration or cooperation. The active engagement of the learner is a sine qua non in learning and this is even more so for successful collaborative work.

Here, the notion of motivation represents a key element that will determine the learner's level of involvement in the collaborative task. Many factors come into play and are determined by his intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see more motivation in learners who have decided to take a training course themselves than in learners whose training is the result of a need of the organization or institution in which he or she evolves.According to K. Lundgren-Cayrol, it is important to distinguish between these two concepts, which are hardly synonymous since they are based on different approaches. In many training activities, the expression "collaborative work" is used, whereas it is very often a matter of cooperation. It is therefore necessary to shed some light on these two expressions. What criteria distinguish them?

For some authors, collaboration is the outcome of a cooperative approach. The two concepts are situated on a "continuum"(Cayrol) and also reflect the level of autonomy acquired by the learner and which consequently will determine whether one is in a collaborative or cooperative approach. 

The choice between cooperative or collaborative mode must be made by the trainer based on observations made about the level of maturity of his learners as well as their abilities to work collaboratively. 


Work modalities

In the cooperative approach just as in the collaborative approach, the goal is shared by the learners. Where it will be appropriate to distinguish between these two types of work is at the task level.

Task completion in cooperative learning  

In cooperative learning, the learner uses the resources that are available to them: the group-the instructor/tutor-the documentary or other resources-the mediated environment-the tools. Tasks that lead to the achievement of the goal are distributed among the different members of the group. Each learner works with tasks generally defined by the trainer/tutor towards the achievement of a goal. In this cooperative scheme, the tasks produced by each learner contribute to the achievement of the goal. The learner works with the resources but generally moves towards the goal alone. The success of the work depends on the addition of all the divided tasks.                         

Task completion in collaborative learning 

The task completed in a collaborative activity relies primarily on an individual and then a collective approach. The group works in synergy: the work is developed via confrontation of ideas, taking initiatives, exchanges between the different members of the group divided into teams. This type of work is generally characterized by a distribution by the members of the group. The members help each other to reach the goal together. The trainer acts more as a facilitator in the process.

In this collaborative scheme, the learner will function more in the mode of collaboration by "adhesion " as understood by Livian. In fact, the author defines four modes of collaboration that also have consequences on the quality of the work produced. For Livian, collaboration is achieved through adherence, through the contract, through the rule and through constraint. On the contrary, the more one tends towards constraint, the more the quality of the collaborative product will be mediocre.                                                              

Character of interdependence between tasks 

Interdependence is not specific to either of these work modes as it is a characteristic present in both. In cooperative work, the tasks that are the responsibility of each learner complement each other to achieve the end goal. The level of interdependence is therefore very high, whereas in collaborative work the tasks are associative in nature and everyone contributes to the whole work and not to a specific part. 

Basic principles for successful collaborative work in training 

The ability to work collaboratively is not the result of an innate skill. On the other hand, this type of work cannot be improvised.  Indeed, the collaborative contribution must be defined even before entering the task. It should be announced at the very beginning of the training. This way, when the collaborative activity is proposed to the learner, he will know exactly what is expected of him and how to proceed. They will also have to understand the link between the task and the means provided. If we take the example  of the forum in a collaborative task, the learner will need to know what use to make of this tool, the rules that govern the activity via the tool and the contributions provided by the trio of tool/method/task. 

 In distance learning, technologies have made it possible to introduce more and more modes of interaction that facilitate this type of work. However, a few basic principles are needed to ensure success.

 The 5 "human" factors facilitating collaborative work according to France Henri and Karin Lundgren-Cayrol 

  • Animation : the facilitation of the work group brings a certain dynamism to the group working on a collective project. This animation is all the more essential as the collaboration is done at a distance. If we compare it to a face-to-face mode of collaboration, the presence of peers helps to keep the group awake.

  • Motivation : motivation here will be strongly linked to participation, to the benefits expected from the training: benefits of a purely personal nature, desire to acquire new knowledge. It can also be motivation of an extrinsic nature such as the need to maintain one's level of employability, the need to update one's knowledge, etc.

  • Participation : examples: attendance at exchanges whether it is attending a team chat, responding to requests from one's peers, intervening in tasks produced by the latter, providing assistance, etc.

  • Cohesion : a homogeneous team has a much greater chance of delivering a good quality product. This cohesion depends on several factors such as the level of motivation for the task, the ability to collaborate, the harmony between members, the fusion of skills. We referred to this harmony earlier when we mentioned the constitution of the group within which the learner evolves during his collaborative task. A random distribution can bring together individuals who are not very willing to work together.
  • Productivity : finally the productivity of the group which is related to the cohesion of the group and is the result of a perception of progress towards the goal and objectives. 

Contributions of remote collaborative work in training 

Daele and Lusalusa highlighted the following contributions regarding remote collaboration in training: 

  • Breaking with the situation of isolation 

In the context of distance training, collaborative work has the advantage of providing the social presence that is lacking in this type of work. As previously mentioned, distance learning places the learner in a situation of isolation, often leading to frustration, demotivation and even abandonment of the training course. In collaborative work, the learner, because he will be solicited by his peers called "teammates", will feel less alone and will be able to benefit from the support of the peer community. This feeling of belonging to a group is therefore  indispensable.

  • Learning to communicate at a distance  

Because it relies on a mode of communication passing through technological tools, it will be advisable to know how to communicate at a distance that relies on technical skills, cordiality, flexibility, responsibility, patience, etc. 

  • Learning to collaborate 

This learning refers to the major phases of work (Ludgren-Cayrol)  and is broken down into cognitive skills: analysis, synthesis and evaluation. 

  1. Phase 1-- exploration: solicits the ability to analyze . Here the learner must be able to search for information, identify it, and understand basic concepts. 
  2. Phase -  elaboration: brings together the three skills.
  3. Phase 3 -  analysis: The learner must be able to connect concepts and be able to make inferences about the structure and principles of the given domain. The "synthesis" level gathers skills related to developing a work plan for the group, justifying choices 
  •  Learning of a "cultural" order 

Interculturality is a notion that should not be neglected in a general way within a group work whether it is in a company or in a training device during work exchanges between learners or even between learners and tutor. This aspect of learning obviously depends on the context of learning and is present at several levels: approach implemented in the device, language, the way of working, the values that govern collective work. 

Language, as a mediator, is imbued with cultural marks of the individual. When a training device brings together learners from different backgrounds, it is not uncommon to notice certain recurrences of locutions that may be considered "inappropriate" or even "out of place" for the different members of the device. Certain languages are certainly to be banned. Thus, a group of learners sharing the same system of cultural representations will be better able to identify all the subtleties of language during exchanges. Let's also say that certain expressions typical of the learner's country will not necessarily be seen in the same light by other learners from different cultures.                                                 

However, this is indeed where taking into account the differences of the other will have to intervene in order not to fall into ethnocentrism.  The working methods may also diverge from one individual to another.  The rules governing face-to-face work must also be maintained especially to inform about the progress of the work, an unavailability that would leave the group in the dark. Some people would prefer to work together via video conference, while for others, e-mail exchanges are more than sufficient. Reactivity also plays an important role in order to ensure a rhythm that is sufficient to allow the work of the other group members to progress. Finally, we can also add some rules related to professionalism or even good manners.

Scripting collaborative learning activities

The dimensions of a scripting tool for collaborative distance learning were defined by C.Depover , J.J. Quintin and B. De Lièvre to guide the designer of a collaborative environment. Furthermore, the tool supports original scenarios as well as a large number of collaborative activities supported by ICT. The six dimensions are:

  1. the nature of the objects submitted and the products expected
  2. the sequencing of activities
  3. the size and modalities of group formation
  4. the modes of monitoring
  5. the tools for regulation and reflexivity
  6. the modes of interaction

Implementing a collaborative approach 

Implementing collaborative work requires a clearly identified approach. It is necessary to properly appropriate the principles that govern the proper conduct of a collaborative approach, to know the facilitating factors and obstacles to this mode of work before deploying an implementation methodology. 

  • Objective definitions  

The ability to work collaboratively is not the result of an innate skill. On the other hand, this type of work cannot be improvised. In distance learning, technologies have made it possible to increasingly establish modes of interaction that facilitate this type of work. The collaborative contribution must be defined even before entering the task. It should be announced at the very beginning of the training. Thus, when the collaborative activity is proposed to the learner, he will know exactly what is expected of him and how to proceed. He will also have to grasp the link that connects the task and the means made available. If we take the example  of the forum in a collaborative task, the learner will have to know what use to make with this tool, the rules that govern the activity via this tool. 

  •  Constraining factors 
Social laziness is the tendency of individuals to make less effort when they are required to work collectively than individually. ( Karau & Williams)

The main constraining factors echo the facilitating factors for successful distance collaboration in training. 

Thus, the lack of involvement and participation related to a to lack of motivation can violate the smooth running of the task that is incumbent on a group. The social laziness (social loafing) is also a point of vigilance not to be neglected in this type of work because it can be a source of conflicts between collaborating peers. Different theories shed light on this such as the theory of social impact, potential evaluation, superfluous effort or even effort matching

Similarly, tensions between members of the group can easily weaken the cohesion of the group and therefore the tasks that must be carried out in synchrony. These tensions may have been caused by problems relating to the work itself. They can also be caused by personal tensions or differences in affinity. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a lack of affinity with a member of the group to predispose the learner to "undergo" the work in some way, even before it begins. Collaborative work will then be done by "constraint" or then by "rule" or even by "contract" in the sense evoked by Livian.  

Working at a distance also implies the use of digital tools. Inadequate material conditions can violate the smooth running of the work by making communication impossible. The most common problems are related  to the Internet connection.

This can be the case of learners located in different geographical areas. This dispersion can make it difficult to meet for work in relation to time zones or even in relation to the professional time of the learner having combined training and work.

Here, time management will come into play. Certain personal or even professional emergencies will take precedence over the imperatives that collaborative work in training requires, particularly when the latter is at the learner's initiative or paradoxically when the training has been imposed on the learner by his institution or company. Similarly, a lack of reactivity can be perceived as a lack of interest when in fact everyone works at a pace that is not only personal to them but also considered correct for them.

Phases of collaborative work by K.Lundgren-Cayrol

The implementation of collaborative work is based on defined phases.

Karin Lundgren-Cayrol's  approach targeting adult learners leaves more control to the learners and focuses on the following 3 phases: 

Tools for collaborative work in training 

There are mainly three classes of tools used for collaborative work at a distance: organizational tools, communication tools, sharing tools. Other types of tools also exist in parallel to these three, such as collaborative writing tools, brainstorming tools, etc. The communication space is the heart of the mediated environment in a collaborative approach. Several tools are present there:

  • Synchronous communication tools 

This type of tool allows the synchronization of exchanges: learners can thus communicate in direct or simultaneous mode. These tools have certain advantages such as allowing negotiation during task allocation, the work approach to be adopted, the points of view and ideas concerning the collaborative work task. On the contrary, synchronous tools such as chat do not allow sufficient ordering of ideas, maturity of thinking since the exchanges are live.

  • Asynchronous communication tools 

Asynchronous communication tools allow for off-line exchanges. Some of these tools, such as the forum, represent a real asset in exchanges between learners insofar as they allow the publication of constructed and ordered content. Indeed, the learner can benefit from time to reflect before exposing his or her ideas or point of view. In the context of a given activity such as a debate or even notions to be clarified, this allows him to enrich the exchanges with content that has been the subject of prior reflection, or even research. 

Illustrations : Sabrina Budel - Via Canva


Collaborative Learning and New Technologies (France Henri & Karin Lundgren-Cayrol)

PI Report Uses of Technologies in Pedagogical Practices (S. Budel)

WP2 - Design, implementation, analysis and evaluation of educational scenarios using Information and Communication Technologies (A. Daele, C. Brassard , L. Esnaut , M. O'Donoghue , E. Uytterbrouck ,R. Zeiliger)

A tool for scripting collaborative distance learning (Christian Depover, Jean-Jacques Quintin, Bruno de Lièvre)

Social Loafing on Group ProjectsStructural Antecedents and Effect on Student Satisfaction (Praveen Aggarwal)

Social Loafing (Wikipedia) - ttps://

The relationship between motivation, team efficacy characteristics, and social laziness in Master's students at UCL (B. Tollenaere)

Practical guide to collaborative work:Theories, methods and tools for collaboration (A. Piquet)

See more articles by this author


Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter
Superprof: the platform to find the best private tutors  in the United States.

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!