Social Learning In Instructional Design: Practical Tips To Design Effective Collaborative eLearning Activities

Social Learning In Instructional Design: Practical Tips To Design Effective Collaborative eLearning Activities
Summary: The significant penetration of social media in our daily lives as well as the raise of corporate presence in them, without any doubt, make them ideal learning tools, a fact that instructional designers for eLearning cannot overlook. In this article, I’ll present the different types of collaborative eLearning activities you may include in your instructional design for eLearning, and I’ll share some tips for designing collaborative eLearning activities that in practice I've found effective.

Types Of Collaborative eLearning Activities

  1. Project-based Learning.
    Collaborative eLearning activities have been proven ideal for project-based learning. Depending on the instructional approach you follow, online project assignments may follow an inductive or a deductive approach. This is directly related to the way and the order according to which information is presented to learners. You may either provide your audience with the information that covers the learning objectives of the subject matter, and then to assign a collaborative eLearning activity asking them to find practical applications of what they have learned so far, focusing on higher order cognitive skills, once you have given them all the information they need, or to require exactly the opposite; asking them to find as much information as they can about the particular topic under study, organize this information in the best possible way and present it to the rest of the group in a form of collaborative eLearning activity. In both cases, each member of the group must contribute to the group project, as the aim of collaborative eLearning is also for the learners to develop social skills, such as task assignment and knowledge sharing, giving feedback to peers, as well as leadership skills.
  2. Case Studies.
    Case studies is another type of collaborative eLearning activity that can be employed. Through case studies, online learners have the opportunity to experiment with real-life scenarios. These scenarios should have been designed in such a way to show learners the practical application of the theoretical knowledge they have been presented with throughout the eLearning course. This highly engages adult learners who want to learn why they need each particular piece of information presented in the eLearning course and how exactly they are going to use it in their daily lives. Case studies can also be offered as project-based collaborative eLearning activities.
  3. Branching Scenarios.
    Finding interesting scenarios for collaborative eLearning activities that really present real-life situations that employees may face in work settings is not an easy task. A good suggestion is for corporate trainers to work closely with supervisors in order to identify “knowledge gaps” or particular problems that employees may face in their daily routines. Then, they may create eLearning scenarios and online case studies, based on the actual problems employees may face. Best practices as well as examples of on-the-job practices that didn’t work so well may serve as the basis for various alternative paths of the branching scenarios to be presented, showing both the positive and the negative consequences of each selected path.
  4. Closed Social Media Groups.
    Employing collaborative eLearning activities that take place in a closed social media group, is one of the latest trends in instructional design. This happens mainly due to the fact that as social media have invaded our lives and they consist a place everyone is familiar with, instructional designers and eLearning course facilitators, instead of creating a discussion group elsewhere, they take advantage of the fact that learners are familiar with the social media environment and may already have an account. Therefore, it is not uncommon, to create a closed group in a social media network, such as in Facebook, in order for learners to discuss a particular case study or scenario given in the eLearning course. Another use of a closed social media group may be to give the opportunity to eLearning course participants to share personal experiences with the rest of the group with respect to the topic under discussion, or even possible additional applications of it in order to promote far transfer. In practice, a closed social media group soon becomes the “meeting place” of everyone involved in the collaborative eLearning activity; This highly motivates learners and makes them more willing to participate, share their actual hands-on experience and learn from the others.
  5. Blogs.
    Though social media closed groups are ideal for group discussion, blogs can be used as the ideal place to upload the result, which is the final product of the collaborative eLearning activities and group projects. The fact that blogs allow registered members to add comments on each topic published, make them ideal for knowledge generation and information exchange among learners. Furthermore, blogs also offer the additional benefit of information continuity, an element that is missing from social media closed groups, as it is usually difficult to track back online discussions that took place a long time ago. The continuity feature of Blogs, however, allows learners to find uploaded a variety of online projects, even collaborative eLearning activities and online portfolios of projects assigned to other groups that had attended the same eLearning course in the past, converting the particular Blog over time into an ideal database of course-related information.

4 Practical Tips To Design Effective Collaborative eLearning Activities

  1. Base each collaborative eLearning activity on measurable learning objectives.
    Students should be given opportunities for social interaction through well-designed collaborative eLearning activities that meet the learning objectives of the eLearning course. In other words, each one of the collaborative eLearning activities should be there for a good reason; not just for the sake of interaction. This is key to successful collaborative eLearning and the biggest inhibiting factor of not using this approach, as failure to set measurable learning objectives in advance, may make the collaborative eLearning activity look “superficial”, without purpose, and very frequently as a waste of time.
  2. Make learners aware that this particular activity is an inseparable part of the eLearning course they attend.
    The fact that learners are familiar with an online environment, such as Facebook, Twitter or any other social media you have chosen, does not make the eLearning activity less important. A good practice is to set this collaborative eLearning activity as a requirement for eLearning course completion, with explicit guidelines of what is expected. A good practice is also to include these activities in the evaluation criteria for successful course completion and to let your audience know about these criteria from the very beginning of the eLearning course.
  3. Create a collaborative eLearning culture.
    Create a culture of sharing; a sense that an online community is always there to support learners whenever they doubt or have a question with respect to the eLearning material. Stress the importance of knowledge sharing and exchange of ideas, opinions and personal experiences on the topic under consideration. Ask learners to summarize the different perspectives mentioned in a group project. Show them the importance of adding a little piece in the puzzle in order to create a bigger picture for all, by rewarding both each individual contribution and the group as a whole.
  4. Stress the importance of individual accountability for the success of the collaborative eLearning activity.
    Last but not least, to combat “social loafing”, which claims that individuals anticipate to work less in a group, as they are not personally accountable for the final result (Latane et al., 1979, cited in Levin, Resnick & Higgings, 1993) [1], the main duty of facilitators of online collaborative eLearning activities is to provide learners with mechanisms that foster their personal accountability for the success of the entire group project. Providing personalized feedback to each participant is one of the ways to raise their personal level of commitment in the collaborative eLearning activity.

Want to learn more about Collaborative eLearning Activities? Read the article Success And Inhibiting Factors Behind Collaborative eLearning Activities, to find out which are the factors that contribute to their success, and which are the inhibiting factors that make Instructional Designers reluctant to include them in their instructional design for eLearning.


  1. Pinto Yma (2012), The efficacy of homogeneous groups in enhancing individual learning, Retrieved from Journal of Education and Practice on August 17th, 2015: