Technology Is Changing Collaborative Learning

Technology Is Changing Collaborative Learning
Summary: New generations, new technologies, and the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed us to rethink how problem-based learning (PBL) is used and facilitated in the online environment.

Online Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach that emphasizes collaborative and self-directed learning. Usually, students collaborate in teams to decide what information is needed to resolve a problem situation. Even though PBL has been around since the 1960s, online PBL is much more than a linear approach to problem-solving. It focuses on a team-led discourse centered on building the team’s capabilities, knowledge, and understanding.

To achieve a successful PBL session in the online environment it is important to incorporate new tools for collaboration and interaction. Students may be working at a distance or on campus, but they will begin by working out what they need to learn to engage with the problem situation. This may take place through a shared whiteboard, conferring, or an email discussion group.

PBL And Technology

With new technology advancements, problem-based learning has been impacted. Technology innovations such as networked and immersive technologies have opened up myriad new possibilities for research and experimentation in designing PBL for digital and eLearning environments. As Moallem, et al. (2019) explain:

The emerging global challenges and the need for transforming pedagogy to better support acquisition of twenty-first-century skills demand new models of learning that are progressively changing from focusing on content knowledge to supporting and modeling process skills, problem-solving skills, and thinking skills. (p. 573)

Similarly, Ulisses F. Araújo, President of the PAN-PBL Association of Problem-Based Learning and Active Learning Methodologies writes, "The use of digital tools and technologies that promote interaction and new forms of social relations in line with new knowledge production led to different forms of course organization where the roles of students and teachers change in the learning process.”

According to Araújo (2019), online PBL as well as other active learning methodologies are the core of an approach where the emphasis on teaching is replaced by an emphasis on learning—which places students at the center of the educational process. However, as Araújo continues, the introduction of technology to the classroom without an appropriate educational approach to explore it will reproduce the same thing that has been going on in the past decades in schools.

The use of computers, videos, and the internet in education doesn’t necessarily imply better educational quality. Usually, its target and method are to display information on a screen to a passive student who has only to read and listen, and take exams. This model perpetuates the teacher (or the computer) in the role of a knowledge transmitter. In other words," changing only the form in which content is presented without considering the relations and the active roles of students in the content knowledge production will not lead to real changes" (Araújo, 2019, p. 586).

Free or low-cost platforms, such as Zoom, WhatsApp, and Google Drive, are examples of technologies that can be combined with PBL approaches to support collaborative work. In “Facilitating Adoption of Web Tools for Problem and Project Based Learning Activities,” Khalid, Rongbutsri, and Buus (2012) suggest appropriate technology tools for common activities students perform during each PBL workgroup phase:

PBL Common Activities Mapped To Technology Tools

Sharing Dropbox, Zotero, Diigo, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Blogger, Delicious, Digg,, SlideShare, LogMeIn, TeamViewer
Discussing Facebook, LinkedIn, Zoom, Skype, MSN, Twitter, Blogger, Doodle, SignAppNow, Canvas, Adobe Connect,, Microsoft OneNote, FirstClass
Reading Google
Writing Google Docs,, MS Office with Dropbox
Communicating Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Zoom, Skype, MSN, Yahoo messenger, Twitter, Blogger, Doodle, SignAppNow, Adobe Connect,, Microsoft OneNote, FirstClass
Reflecting Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Zoom, Skype, MSN, Yahoo messenger, Twitter, Blogger, FirstClass
Argumenting Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Zoom, Skype, MSN, Yahoo messenger, Twitter, Blogger, FirstClass, Email, Microsoft OneNote
Diagramming Gliffy, Diagramly, Dabbleboard

There are still areas that need to be explored about the way in which problem scenarios are designed for online PBL and the extent to which digital environments can be learner-centered and learner-driven. Yet despite the fears and concerns about the notions raised by both tutors and students that online PBL can serve as a disembodied identity, online PBL does seem to offer a new learning space in which technology can support new and innovative forms of interactive learning.


It is important to level up our teaching strategies for the new generation of learners. So, next time you design an online course, think of how you can engage your audience’s learning with the use of technology for problem-based learning.


Araújo, U. F. 2019. "3D Immersive Platforms and Problem-Based Learning Projects: A Search for Quality in Education." In The Wiley Handbook of Problem-Based Learning, edited by M. Moallem, W. Hung, and N. Dabbagh, 575–592. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Khalid, M. S., N. Rongbutsri, and L. Buus. 2012. "Facilitating adoption of web tools for problem and project based learning activities." In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Networked Learning 2012, edited by V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, T. Ryberg, and P. Sloep, 559–566. Retrieved from on 22 April 2022.

Moallem, M., W. Hung, and N. Dabbagh. 2019. "New Developments and Emerging Trends." In The Wiley Handbook of Problem-Based Learning, edited M. Moallem, W. Hung, and N. Dabbagh, 573–574. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.