Collaboration: as with all learning, is too important to be left to chance

Jane McGonigal presents a great argument here that attempts to demonstrate the potential force for good that could exist within games-playing. Games like World of Warcraft require a commitment on the part of the participants to collaborate with their fellow players in order to achieve their goals.

For me, this brings me back to considering the power of games-dynamics in themselves and of the need for students to get as many opportunities as possible to learn together, in groups. The structure and integral components that underpin interactive games-playing might be translated into a some form of taxonomy of learning design. Here’s a very rough draft of what it might look like:


  • Identifies what needs to be done in order to achieve goals
  • Recognises that attainment of goals cannot be done independently of others
  • Identifies who and/or what can help in the attainment of such goals
  • Adapts own behaviour so as to foster collaboration from others
  • Collaborates with others to achieve own goals
  • Works effectively with others to achieve own goals
  • Is prepared to offer collaborative expertise to achieve goals of others
  • Recognises that working with others is more effective than working independently
  • Actively seeks out further collaborative opportunities with others


And so on.

And what if we created a game-scenario that was intended to solve some of the world’s greatest problems and handed this over to our students? How might this encourage learners to engage with the wider world and begin a process of problem solving from which innovative solutions might emerge? We know it works, after all. Consider the way in which the human gene was finally coded, or the creation of WIkipedia or…well, you know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we should ditch the curriculum and get students to start playing WoW. What this talk does make me think about, however, is how collaborative skills need to be deliberately practised just as much as skills in calculus, research or reading. As I’ve said before in posts and I’m writing about in other forms at the moment, if we can design learning in such a way that it offers engaging opportunities for students to mindfully practise the skills required to collaborate, then surely that’s one step closer to their readiness to both give and take from the world everything it has to offer?

Other TED Talks on related to this and that have similar connections to learning include Seth Priebatsch and Tom Chatfield.

Groupwork: Learning together & the power of collaboration

Talks like this one from Charles Leadbeater are really useful. They can re-focus our thinking on how we can deliberately foster the skills required in effective group work. In this talk, the importance of developing collaborative-working skills in readiness for the future is very well argued. I would add here that for learners to succeed right NOW, they need to be effective group worker right NOW. Ultimately, if we are to fully utilise the social dimension of humanity, it is far too important to be left to chance. It, just like our other capacities, needs to be mindfully practised and explicitly developed. Our classrooms and school communities could be the hot-houses for just such collaboration. 

I’ve been doing some work on what we mean by ‘group work’ and seeing what we can learn from collaborative learning dynamics.

When introducing group work, I always involve the learners in the assessment process:

The first question I ask students to consider is…

“What makes a quality team member?” In doing this, I ask them to identify what they would like to see, hear and feel when they are being or working with a quality team member. In this way, they can start to formulate their own quality standards for the challenges they are about to face. This becomes their success criteria for the whole learning process. It also generates a student-led plenary discussion both during and after the challenge. This in turn, encourages the students to reflect on the product of their learning IN LIGHT OF THE PROCESS.

The way in which we design learning needs to be as carefully planned as every other aspect of the lesson. So whenever I’m deciding what groups they will work in, I have these as a quick check list:

What is the purpose of the activity – will this group structure and combination of learners enable them to achieve the learning aims?

What are the pre-existing skills, knowledge and understanding in the group; are these well matched/ balanced within the group?

What roles might the group members adopt to ensure that skills and tasks are well matched? (facilitator; team rep; resources manager; time keeper; scribe etc)

What is the social age of the learners; how can we help learners both speak AND listen to each other?

What is the cognitive age of the learners; are they all at the same level of competency – do they need to be for this task?

What is the emotional age of the learners; how will the group members cope when they struggle or face disappointment?

How will I interact with learners; my language needs to praise effort alongside achievement – post-it notes work really well for this, rather than direct interventions that disrupt the group dynamic.

In what ways will I make the skills and competencies I want the students to develop explicit to them throughout the lesson?

If you have any thoughts on this or reflections on how you organise group work, please leave a comment.


Grouptalk: Creating learning through ‘liquid networks and nurturing ‘slow hunches’

Steven Johnson provides us with a fascinating journey through the history of ideas.

In this talk, he makes some very pertinent observations about the architecture of spaces. For me, this raises the question of how we consider working with our existing (and new) learning spaces; nothing new there, granted. But the heart of this talk is to observe the way in which humans as a social species use their social spaces as an opportunity to collaborate and spark off each other in order to innovate.

How, then, do we organise learning so as to incorporate the physical aspects of learning with the emotional aspects (including the emotional responses we have to the spaces themselves) to ensure that the spaces themselves work for us to encourage the establishment of networks and the collision of ideas and nurturing of ‘slow hunches’. I have a few ideas about this, but in the meantime, make a cuppa and put your feet up for 20 minutes and enjoy learning from another great talk. 

There’s also an RSA Animate version of this talk (by the marvellous people at Cognitive Media) which is well worth a watch by you and your students. It’s a great way to emphasise the importance of talk and listening skills PLUS an example of ‘Draw Your Learning’ which is one of my fave plenaries when you set it up at the start of the lesson.

(Adapted from an original post on