Collaborative Learning

This week I have been exploring constructivism learning theories, and various topics surrounding this.  This started with listening to Richard Culatta in a TED talk about reimagining learning.  I then reviewed a book How People Learn written by Bransford, Brown and Cocking as a review on various learning principles.  This was all leading into a deeper view of constructivism, which I started by reading Angela O’Donnell’s writing on constructivism.  This led me to searching for more articles that were directly related to my interests in relation to constructivism, and in line with one of the points Richard had discussed, group inquiry based learning.

Richard Culatta discussed how collaborative problem solving is something that is new for the future, and that technology will help to create this.  This interests me greatly, as I am currently developing and modifying a curriculum that is based purely in collaborative problem solving and utilizing technology!  So let’s take a quick dive in to the details of what research says.

O’Donnell explains multiple forms of constructivism, with dialectical constructivism being the deepest form that gets investigated.  Dialectical constructivism is a form of education where learners help themselves to learn with others in their community, using scaffolding and learning from experiences (O’Donnell, 2012).

When viewing collaborative problem solving we can see many examples of research supporting the value and application.  Heidi Lujan and Stephen DiCarlo address this in their article, saying that collaborative learning increases true understanding more than lectures, especially when a reduction in rote memory content is required (Lujan, DiCarlo, 2006).  Kathleen FitzPatrick and Jay Campisi explored this theory in application, for exercise physiology, and realized that student led collaborative problem solving showed a marked increase in understanding, proficiency, and engagement with the exercise physiology classes (FitzPatric, Campisi, 2009).  In addition to increased learning, proficiency and engagement being a benefit of this method Shawn Simonson conducted a research that showed student and teacher preference favored student group collaborative problem solving over traditional teacher lecture methods of class (Simonson, 2014).

This is only some of the research that is out there showing support for collaborative problem solving being more effective and beneficial for students than traditional style teaching.  These specific studies were chosen because of the direct relation they had to my teaching.  All of these studies I chose were directly studying exercise physiology classroom applications, which is very similar to the classes I am teaching currently, and therefore most directly related.

Culatta proposed that collaborative problem solving in the new time of technology will lead to a new and improved educational environment for students.  The research I have found supports this notion, specifically for exercise physiology.  The previously discussed research shows that collaborative problem solving increases learning, retention, understanding, proficiency, engagement, and enjoyment of a class.  All of these things are of high importance for an educational environment.  With this knowledge and research the next stage is implementation to a greater degree, and studying the best practices for it.  Some content must be taught in a more standard teacher lecture method, Bransford, Brown & Cocking make this clear, as they discuss that students must have a deep foundation of factual knowledge to start, so what needs to be decided is what is the optimal balance of lecture and collaborative self guided learning (2000). What must be taught by a teacher? When should a teacher allow further exploration or provide guidance? Are some subjects more effectively learned than others? Are some learners more suited than others for this type of learning?  What ways can we incorporate new technologies, or old technologies reimagined to optimize this?

Some final thoughts on ways we can use this knowledge and the technology we have available to move farther into the future.  Developing tools that give immediate feedback to students without a teacher needing to be present (examples within exercise physiology or PE include force plates, video recording devices, maker stopwatches, etc.).  This allows students to use groups to try to reach an end goal independent of a teacher.  Do you have any other ideas?


Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. National Academies Press. Retrieved from

FitzPatrick, Kathleen A., Campisi, Jay. (December 2009). A Multiyear Approach to Student-Driven Investigations in Exercise Physiology.  Adv. Phyisol Educ, Vol 33. No 4 pp 349-355 DOI: 10.1152/advan.00056.2009

Giuliodori, Mauricio J., Lujan, Heidi L., DiCarlo, Stephen E. (March 13, 2006).  Peer Instruction Enhanced Student Performance on Qualitative Problem-Solving Questions. Adv. Phyisol Educ, Vol 30. No 4 pp 168-173. DOI:10.1152/advan.00013.2006

Lujan, Heidi L., DiCarlo, Stephen E. (December 2006). Too Much Teaching, Not Enough Learning: What is the Solution? Adv. Phyisol Educ, Vol 30 No 1 pp 17-22. DOI:10.1152/advan.00108.2013

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Simonson, Shawn R. (March 1, 2014). Making Students do the Thinking: Team-Based Learning in a Laboratory Course. Adv. Phyisol Educ, Vol 38. No 1 pp 49 – 55 DOI: 10.1152/advan.00108.2013

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