As learning and collaborative practices occur in many contexts throughout life, this paper aims to focus and discuss these terms in a higher education, online environment. A combination of social, technological and economic drivers has resulted in major pedagogical changes in higher Education online (Engineering Subject Centre 2011). Much of the change is centered to accommodate the increased amount of diverse students and their needs as they pursue study in the online environment. The increased diversity of online students is believed to enhance collaborative experiences in an online environment.

John-Steiner (2000) states that, “collaboration thrives on diversity of perspectives and constructive dialogue between individuals negotiating their differences while creating their shared voices and visions”. Collaboration forms the foundation of community learning online, as it allows for mutual exploration of ideas, development of critical thinking skills, an opportunity to reflect on and develop those ideas, and a collaborative, supportive approach to academic work (Price 2000).

A true collaborative learning environment must contain a setting where the learner acts by using tools or devices and collects ND interprets information whilst interacting with others (Tan, Samsung & Druids 2003). Theorist and research has shown and proven that collaborative environments are highly influential in the learning process; as humans are in fact, very social beings. Collaboration in the online environment does not only equip students with the skills and ability to construct content knowledge in their courses; it is fair more versatile and transferable by supporting future interactions and embodies lifelong learning.

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The implications of collaborative approaches to learning and the way in which advancing technology influences the way in which we interact with each other will be also discussed in this paper. Collaborative approaches to learning have been proven to suit the needs of most online learners; however, implications to this approach must be understood to further enhance learning with others. The diversity of online students enhances collaborative experiences. Greater accessibility to online education has encompassed a larger and more diverse online learner population.

Online learner profiles have diversified to include all types of participants from a variety of backgrounds. In its beginnings, distant learners held a more homogeneous profile of mostly adult, usually already employed, place-bound, goal-oriented, and intrinsically motivated. As progressions in information technology have advanced, a generation of more dynamic, younger and more responsive students emerge in the online education system, resulting in encompassing both young and old learners (Dabbing 2007).

The increased diversity of students now include those from different geographical locations, time zones, part-time or full- time workers, stay at-home-parent’s, single parent’s, retirees and those who are driving to further their career by advancing their education (Nary 2010). The change and emerging nature of the online leaner and the multiplicity of learning styles Witt generational deterrence can positively attest the way in which learners collaborate online.

Research shows that diverse working groups are more productive, creative, and innovative than homogeneous groups due to an expanded knowledge system with varied experiences, beliefs and perceptions shared. Every single person in this enormously diverse and ever-changing system has the power to serve as an invaluable resource for all others?students, teachers, and the community as a whole as they have their own expertise and unique experiences in which they can draw on in discussions; providing additional dimensions to concepts and ideas (Muskoxen, Hackneying & Alkali 1999).

The nature of asynchronous discussions also proves to be more democratic and equitable through the presentation and inclusion of multiple points of view, therefore, allowing for greater collaboration among participants (Whatnot & Nagasaki, 1992). Online asynchronous discussion also allows artisans the opportunity to reflect on their classmates’ insightful contributions while creating their own, and to reflect on their own writing before posting it; generating a certain mindfulness and reflection among students as they interact.

Theorists suggest collaboration is a cornerstone of the educational experience in the online learning environment (Falloff & Pratt 2005). In education, the most common and relative theory is a social Constructivist approach to teaching and learning. The constructivist learning environment may be defined as a place where learners work soother and support each other through the use of varied tools and information resources with a guided pursuit to attain common learning goals (Wilson 1996).

Social constructivism can be seen to have its roots in Hoosegows theories of teaching and learning. Social constructivism emphasizes the critical importance of culture and the importance of the social context for cognitive development. Knowledge is co- constructed between peers as the learning context is shared. In order to negotiate and construct meaning learners bring prior knowledge and combine it with new knowledge through their interactions with each other. Hoosegows Zone of Proximal Development also highlights the presence of social interaction.

Weights argues that students can, with help from an instructor or fellow peers, master concepts and ideas that they cannot understand on their own. Current research is suggesting that collaborative learning may be very effective online as small group collaborative learning has been show to result in higher achievement, less stress and greater student satisfaction, and greater appreciation for diversity. Some educators, according to Swan et al (2010), suggest that it may be particularly important and well edited to the online environment as a way of incorporating the social aspects of learning in a virtual environment.

In online education, collaboration fits within the ideals of social constructivism as students interact with each other and their teacher to co-construct knowledge and understanding and therefore increase their learning (Brooks 2002). Collaborative approaches to learning can be used beyond the classroom setting and implemented in other areas of life for lifelong learning. The challenge is to leverage technology to create relevant learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives ND the reality of their futures.

We live in a highly mobile, globally connected society n w c the younger generation will nave more Jobs and more careers in their lifetimes than their parent’s. Learning should never be confined to educational institutions: It must be lifelong, life wide, and available on demand (US Department of Education 2012). To prepare students to learn throughout their lives and in settings far beyond classrooms, online education must bring 21st-century technology into learning in meaningful ways to engage, motivate, connect and inspire learners of all ages to achieve.

Comprehensive collaborative acquisition is a lifelong skill that will enhance student success in their futures as they will possess the skills and knowledge required to compete in the work force. It is very rare for successful professionals to neglect collaborative approaches when making decisions and developing ideas in the work force. Team work underpins many professions and it is imperative for students to have the skills to collaborate for their future employment opportunities.

Professionals routinely use Web resources and collaborative technology such as wise, blobs, and user-generated content for research, elaboration, and communication which is commonly demanded in their Jobs. Group learning is especially enhanced by social and participatory approaches, such as wise, in which learners and teachers or employees and employers, regardless of their location or the time of day can build knowledge structures or tackle inquiry problems that are posed together Monsoons, Levine, and Smith 2009).

Preparing students to become networked learners with the ability to tap expertise anytime and anywhere will enable them to advance their learning and encourage them to continue this racists when faced with challenging problems in their future; this even includes non-Job related issues such as searching forums when looking for quality childcare in the local area. Implications to collaborative approaches can be minimized with greater understanding of the issues. A significant concern challenging the effectiveness of collaborative approaches to learning are, the implications to the level of student participation in online learning.

Past studies indicate that students demonstrate different online interaction styles, which consist of the ways or habits students acquire knowledge from computer-mediated discussions (Sutton, 2001). Yang & Richardson (2008) describe three student interaction styles in which students participate in online discussions, these include: the active interaction style (Bedouin, 2002), the vicarious interaction style (Sutton, 2001), and the mixed or balanced- interaction style.

Although it seems that active interaction is the keystone to active learning, Sutton (2001) suggest that direct participation in online discussion is not necessary for all students all of the time. She further contends that those who actively observe and process both sides of direct interactions among others will benefit from that process which she calls “vicarious interaction”. While both vicarious interaction and balanced-interaction styles propose less participation in collaborative experiences, research findings show that the level of active learning occurring is not compromised (Yang, Richardson 2008).

Parallels have been draw with student participant in traditional classroom settings and vicarious interaction online. In traditional classroom discussion, vicarious learning is almost demanded. A teacher owes a question and a student answers it, in most cases the teacher will continue n deepening the understanding to the concept, correct misconceptions and help students clarify the idea, it is now that we understand the same principle applies to online learning.

The level of participation has been used to denote the quality of online collaboration, however, as we have discussed a lack of participation does not always correlate to poor learning outcomes. In instances whereby teachers feel that students are not reflecting vicarious interaction rather, no engagement with the intent, Swan (2003) suggest that instructors encourage and support vicarious interaction and perhaps use tracking mechanisms to reward reading as well as responding to messages.

Another significant concern challenging the effectiveness of collaborative approaches has been observed by Hilt (1997). She suggested students were not always satisfied with the process of group interaction and quality of group discussions. Implications such as waiting for feedback lead students to feel impatient at the lack of social presence. On the contrary, Arnold and Educate (2006) found that he lack of immediate feedback can be positive as to enable students to develop ideas and produce more succinct and meaningful responses with increased motivation to improve their online communication.

Progressions in information and technology directly affect the quality of collaboration that occurs in online environments. Computer-based telecommunications connect people beyond the limitations of space and time to promote interactions among people who might not otherwise interact. Engaging and effective learning experiences can be individualized or differentiated for particular learners or rationalized, however, delays in effectively implementing correct designs and interfaces may depress learning as users may be challenged by the constraints.

Swan (2004), suggests that faculties work with major technological platforms to improve interfaces to support learning, develop consistent interfaces for all courses in a program, provide up to date and relevant collaborative tools and provide 2417 support for students and faculty. Research also indicates that ongoing assessment of student performance linked to immediate feedback by instructor or peers supports learning. Swan recommends that automated testing and feedback is provided through technological advancements and frequent opportunities for students to assess their learning through programs is an advantage to student learning.

The development of general learning modules with opportunities for active learning, assessment and feedback can also be shared among courses and accessed by students for remediation or enrichment. In conclusion, collaboration is a significant contributor to learning, particularly in a higher educational online environment. The diversity of online students enhances elaborative experiences as they are more productive, creative, and innovative than homogeneous groups due to an expanded knowledge system with varied experiences, beliefs and perceptions shared.

Theorist and research into the way we learn also solidify collaborative approaches to learning. Collaboration fits within the ideals of Hoosegows social constructivism as students interact with each other and their teacher to co-construct knowledge and understanding and therefore increase their learning. It was also noted that collaboration is a transferable skill and can be adopted in many areas to elite tort Littleton learning. The ideal to preparing students to will advance their learning and encourage them to continue this practice when faced with challenging problems in their future.

Although collaborative approaches to learning have its implications, they can be minimized with greater understanding of the issues. Student participation was not always necessary for all students all of the time as vicarious interaction takes place. Waiting for feedback can lead students to feel impatient at the lack of social presence, however, the lack of immediate feedback an also be positive; as to enable students to develop ideas and produce more succinct and meaningful responses.

Technology does have its virtues and performs as the main facilitator to online learning, however, attention must be given when developing interfaces as students will predominantly be using these to engage in learning.

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