Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment


  • Jane Brindley University of Oldenburg
  • Lisa Marie Blaschke Kreative Kommunikation
  • Christine Walti Anne Arrundel College



Distance education, open learning, online learning, e-learning, collaborative learning, pedagogy, instructional design, learner motivation,


Collaborative learning in an online classroom can take the form of discussion among the whole class or within smaller groups. This paper addresses the latter, examining first whether assessment makes a difference to the level of learner participation and then considering other factors involved in creating effective collaborative learning groups. Data collected over a three year period (15 cohorts) from the Foundations course in the Master of Distance Education (MDE) program offered jointly by University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and the University of Oldenburg does not support the authors’ original hypothesis that assessment makes a significant difference to learner participation levels in small group learning projects and leads them to question how much emphasis should be placed on grading work completed in study groups to the exclusion of other strategies. Drawing on observations of two MDE courses, including the Foundations course, their extensive online teaching experience, and a review of the literature, the authors identify factors other than grading that contribute positively to the effectiveness of small collaborative learning groups in the online environment. In particular, the paper focuses on specific instructional strategies that facilitate learner participation in small group projects, which result in an enhanced sense of community, increased skill acquisition, and better learning outcomes.

Author Biographies

Jane Brindley, University of Oldenburg

Adjunct faculty with University of Oldenburg and University of Maryland University College; independent consultant

Lisa Marie Blaschke, Kreative Kommunikation

Lisa Marie Blaschke is an assistant professor (adjunct) within the Master of Distance Education (MDE) program in the Graduate School of Management and Technology (GSMT) at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). She is also head of a communications consulting firm, Kreative Kommunikation, which offers a wide range of distance education services, from e-learning design and development to project management. Her research interests are in the areas of online collaborative learning, pedagogical application of web 2.0 tools, and user interface design. She currently lives with her family on the edge of a forest in the German Odenwald.



How to Cite

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3).



Research Articles