Problem Based Collaborative Learning

Problem Based Collaborative Learning


Collaborative learning is a learning approach that contextualizes learning through the presentation of problems for the learners to solve. At times the learners are required to develop products. An example is when adult learners carry out a research on the academic resources available in a given community. After such a research they might be required come up with a handbook which can be used for sharing with other learners. Another possible activity is carrying out a survey to interview local employers on the qualities they look for in employees. This paper provides a rationale for using collaborative learning with adult English Language learners. It describes the process and shows how the staff of adult English as a second language (ESL) program can use collaborative learning with their students at varying levels of English proficiency.


The world generally is on an upswing in many demands of so many things. One of the most pressing needs is the demand for qualified staff with excellent working skills. This will include interpersonal skills, flexibility to work in teams, the knowledge of group dynamics, ability to lead and solve problems and being able to make concise communication. This has put the pressure on educators to ensure that institutional graduates at whatever level especially when they are expected to move to the job market are trained on the basics of the job market. This calls for an overhaul of the present curricula to include the basic knowledge of the work place in the student learning. This will drive acquiring of knowledge away from being theory based into being practical thus making it even more rewarding as one goes through it.

Problem Statement

The business world experiences the above narrated challenge. The graduates of most business schools are out of touch with what goes in the job market. According to Katherine Mangan (1999) there has been a bad trend in the business schools. She argued that the schools are just interested in the money making and do not care about the quality of graduates they send to the job markets. She wrote,

“There is genuine concern that business schools have become M.B.A. factories, churning out clones -- and often unhelpful clones at that, she further wrote, there is also a sense that they do not serve the interests of the wider business community, but have been responsible for producing a cadre of career managers -- people whose primary concern is their own career advancement and not the welfare or success of the companies they work for” (Mangan para. 7).

The above problem is one of the main problems which the education sector needs to take care of. This paper has come up with one design which can be used to solve the above problem that is collaborative problem based learning. Arguing from the constructivist point of view, positivist pedagogies does support the growth of personal characteristics counter to those needed for development. The program is designed to make the students active participants in the learning process. To achieve this pedagogy based on constructivist learning philosophy which is problem based will be the most appropriate.

Other Possible Solutions

One way which is popular in grounding students is through collaborative learning. Peter Murdoch (2005) defines this term as, “learning that occurs as a result of interaction between peers engaged in the completion of a common task” (Murdoch para. 1). He continues to write that the students are not just in groups but work together in the groups thus making a major contribution to each member's learning. Murdoch has put across the objective of collaborative learning in a very clear. It should be noted that what is learnt in an effective team is actually what the job market is demanding of its staff. Murdoch further suggests the ways in which can work collaboratively: face to face, use of information technology to enable group discussion, in or out of classrooms: collaborative learning can take various forms; collaborative course experiences; collaborative course project; collaborative writing project; collaborative problem-based learning; collaborative testing; collaborative professional development; collaborative training; collaborative workshop; collaborative inquiry; collaborative action research; reciprocal teaching among others.

Adult Learners

Dr. Erkan Tekinarslan (2004) cites Lyman giving the definition of adult education as, “participation in systematic learning activities for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge or skills or changing attitudes or values, by persons who have assumed adult social roles” (Tekinarslan para. 6). He continued to argue that in developed countries a large number of adults are after additional educational experiences. He quoted the 1994 UNESCO survey which revealed that in the U.S 41% of the adults were involved in learning activities. The main reasons that Tekinarslan (2004) put across for the adult learning is to develop work related knowledge and skills and attaining of personal development and fulfillment (Tarkinarslan, 2004).

To effectively come up with an effective program, it will be prudent to learn the characteristics of the adult students. Tarkinarslan (2004) cites Rogers giving the characteristics of adult learners as follows:

They are in a continuous growth process (adult learning is not a beginning but a process which is building on another)

a) They are enriched with experience and values

b) They enroll in these programs with education intents

c) They come with expectations about learning

d) They have their own set learning patterns

Further more adult learners are characterized with self learning whereby self learning is defined as the ability of a learner to take the responsibility of learning (Tarkinarsaln 2004).

Characteristics of Collaborative Learning

Peter Murdoch (2005) citing Miller, Imrie and Cox gives the following as the characteristics of successful collaborative projects.

* The problem under scrutiny is similar to the problems which affect the general community or the business world.

* The solution likely to come to the problem should be what is learnt in the curriculum.

* The challenge being looked at should be within the solving ability of the group members. It will not be proper for the group to depend on some key members.

The Importance of Collaborative Learning to Adult Students

Murdoch (2005) wrote on how collaborative learning helps in fostering student centered learning. Through the peer collaborations it is possible for discussion, negotiation, interpretation, organization, application of learning in new situations, clarification and problem solving.

In collaborative situations, students are expected to generate solutions and explanation on their course of action to the other group members. This happens especially when they have to justify their course of action. This also happens when there is need for multiple perspectives on issues, interpretation is needed, and clarity of ambiguity or creativity in thinking is needed. There is also a likely hood that learning in groups is likely to increase learning risks by through the help of the other members. Group working leads to covering of more work because ideas and resources are shard. Collaborative learning helps the students to focus on the process and the expected end results. There is likelihood that through collaborative learning, absenteeism cases are likely to be reduced because of the members feel responsibility towards the group.

Collaborative learning is likely to enhance interpersonal skills. The group members get to learn how to be both independent and dependent. They learn basic skills about being adaptable, non-judgmental, cooperative and interactive. Public speaking skills are instilled in the students as they participate in the various presentations in the course of the group activities.

Rationale for Collaborative Learning

The introduction of collaborative learning entails the planning and preparation of students. The following should be considered in the course of designing of collaborative learning activities:

1) It should include the knowledge and application of knowledge as well as the process skills. These skills will include specific communication and cooperation skills.

2) The activities that will enable the students to achieve and demonstrate the objectives of the program

3) There should be the inclusion of relevant materials to enable the achievement of the objectives.

4) There should be a means of assessing each of the objectives.

According to Fried Booth (1997) collaborative learning acts as a link between using the skills learnt in a class setting and applying them in a practical real life situation (Fried-Booth, 1997). For instance for the case of this paper Adult English learners are presented with a situation where they will be required to use the English skills they would learnt in class to real life situation. Collaborative learning will place the students in a situation where they will be required to authentic ally use the English in order to communicate.

Stein (1995) believes working in groups has got many advantages. The students involved in the collaborative learning get to learn lot skills which include planning skills, negotiating skills, organizing skills and other interpersonal skills (Stein 1995). The U.S. department of labor has described these skills has a necessity in a high performance work place (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). According to Lawrence (1997) development of skills can also occur even at the low levels of language proficiency. He argues that this is possible because of the collaborative nature of the learning (Lawrence, 1997).

Introducing a Collaborative Problem-Based Learning Curriculum

The introduction of curriculum based on learning pedagogy should be prompted by gap which the current program is not addressing appropriately. This can be known by the criticisms which are directed towards a curriculum in question. Coming up with such a program requires that thorough research is carried out by the relevant authorities in the field in question.

Wrigley (1998) gives the basic phases found in most projects: selection of a topic, planning, doing the research, development of the products and lastly result sharing. He adds that there is need for the establishment of a trusting, cooperative relationship among the group members. This is a required necessity if the group is to work effectively. This paper will use collaborative problem-based learning technique in explaining how a class of Adult English learners can use collaborative learning in enhancing the skills they would have learnt in class. It will be assumed that the Adult English learners will carry out a research in form of interviewing the local employees on what qualities they seek in employees. Wrigley (1998) argues that the activities that engage the students in communication activities are good for the learners they help them to develop their language.

Topic Selection

Moss (1998) argues when choosing a topic for a problem based collaborative learning, the interest of the learners should be kept in mind. He further writes that the choosing of a topic should be done by the teacher probably at the beginning of an instructional cycle. The teacher should carefully try to assess his/her class in order to identify the areas which need to be developed. The choosing of a topic however should also include the students' opinions. Moss (1998) writes that a topic may focus on the objectives of a given specific unit or it may just cover the whole program (Moss 1998). For this paper the topic is collecting the views of local employers of what they think about business schools as regards to the quality of graduates they produce.

This topic is chosen because it requires the students to practically apply the skills they would have gained in class in real life situation. The paper will require the students to demonstrate their communication skills even as they carry out the survey to get the views.

Making Plans and Doing Research

After a topic is chosen the teacher needs to divide the learners into groups in such a manner that the group members are dependent of each other. The group members should work together in planning and conducting the project. The group members with low language proficiency will benefit from the others with more experience as they work collaboratively with the other members. There are pre-project activities which will have to be undertaken in order to enable the undertaking of the project to be a smooth process. These activities will include coming up with the strategies of solving the problem to be tackled or the topic. Negotiation language will be quite necessary for the implementation of the project.

There will a need for the group members to learn some specific language skills to enable them carry out their task effectively. Some of the specific language skills the learners will be required to learn in carrying this research will be instruction and practice in constructing and asking of questions. They will also require skills in notes taking. The learners will also be required to gather some information on the problem they will be researching on. This will enable them to ask the appropriate questions when carrying out the research. For this study the learners will be required t o know more about the dissatisfaction expressed by employers against business schools as pertains to the quality of graduates expected.

The adult learners for instance in this project will be need to identify the lesson objectives and evaluation criteria. They will also be required to share ideas on what will make their presentation of the results taking into account both the language and presentation skills. The criteria which can be used for presentation include the following:

a) Introduction of self and the topic in a concise, respectfully, and complete manner.

b) It should include interactive activities in the presentation or class.

c) Use of language in a manner that is easy to understand.

d) Should be responsive to the audience.

e) Should show evidence of knowledge of the topic, preparation and practice.

Sharing Results with Others

After the research is conducted the students are faced with a challenge of sharing their results with others. The sharing of the research finding presents another opportunity for the English to yet put into practice what they learnt in class. According to Lawrence (1997) the methods of sharing a projects are can be oral presentations or in written form. For the presentations which are carried out orally, there will be a need for the results to be in a written format first.

Oral presentations are best for Adult English learners because they get to practice public speaking. Such kind of projects if carried out properly can be very helpful even in real life situations. Lawrence (1997) gives an example of an adult program whose project led to the creation and management of a cafe and catering (Lawrence 1997).

Assessment of Project Based Work

Assessment of a project is quite important as it helps in coming up with a practical project work which can be implemented. This is especially advisable when the project to be carried out is to be done on a large scale. The methods which can be used in evaluating the learners include the use of role plays, using learner to learner interviews and also writing activities. Evaluation forms can also be used to evaluate the learners. The learners will just need to fill in the forms concerning issues related to the project. They might be required to explain how they think they have benefitted from project as far as learning English is concern.

The teachers are also an important as far as evaluation is concern. The teachers can make their evaluation in the course of the project and note the areas which need to be worked on. The teachers will be in a better position to observe and evaluate the skills and knowledge that students use and the way the language they have is used. During the presentations of the results the teachers and fellow students get another beautiful chance to carry out an evaluation of the language and presentation skills of those presenting the research findings.

Assessment can also be achieved through the use of small-group discussion through the use of guided questions. Question such as, what was done excellently by your members in the project? What needed improvement in the project? Lawrence (1997) gives an example of assessment in a New York City project carried out by adult English language learners. The assessment was done through use of checklists, dialogue journals, and portfolios (Lawrence 1997).

Research Logistics

The proposed research has an objective of helping adult English learners put the communication skills they have learnt into use. The research is expected to involve much of self expression. It is expected that the carrying out of the research will help the adult learners to put the skills learnt in the English class into test in the field. The following will be expected in the execution of this interview:

Division of students

With the help of the concert teacher the student should be divided into groups consisting of three individuals who will be working together. The members should be take time to be familiar with each other. The teacher should facilitate ice breaking sessions for the various groups. It should be noted that at this point the application of the skills learnt in classroom starts at this point. The group members are expected to be friendly to each other for the project to be run smoothly.

The group members will be expected to chat their way forward with the assistance of the teacher. They are expected to update themselves on the issues of what the employers expect of the graduates and what the business schools might not be doing to meet this obligation. This will place them in a better position to effectively carry out the interview.

Getting information about the topic will entail moving around the resource centers and will call for communication skills to be put to use which is the objective of the research.

Seeking the permission from the necessary authority

The group members will be expected to come up with a list of the employers they wish to contact. The list should mainly contain the Human resource managers of the local companies. After drawing up the list, the members will seek appointment with the shortlisted managers. The members are expected to draw the letters seeking the appointment for the interview. All these activities are expected to give the students a thorough challenge of applying what they learnt in class into practice in a real life situation.

Constructing a time schedule

After the confirming on the managers who would be willing to be interviewed, the group members will be required to draw up a time schedule on how the survey will carried out.


Problem based collaborative learning entails the use of careful planning and lot of flexibility from the teacher. Collaborative learning is quite dynamic and as a result it is challenging to anticipate all the problems which are expected. However collaborative learning gives an excellent platform for Adult English learners to put into practice what they have learnt in classes. One form o f collaborative learning is problem based collaborative learning.

Some of basic steps which can be used in carrying out a problem based collaborative learning are: selecting of a topic, grouping and then planning the collaborative learning. A collaborative research carried out particularly by adult English learners can be quite helpful because it will give them a chance to learn how to put into practice what they would have learnt in a class setting. It also gives both the teacher and the students a chance to evaluate themselves and know what areas they can improve.

Works Cited

Wrigley, S. (1998). Knowledge in action. Focus on Basics, 2 (3), 13-18.

U.S. Department of Labor. (1991). The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. Washington, DC.

Stein, S. (1995). Equipped for the future: A customer-driven vision for adult literacy and lifelong learning. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Moss, D. (1998). Project-based learning and assessment. Arlington, VA: The Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP).

Lawrence, A. (1997). Expanding capacity in ESOL programs (EXCAP). The Journal of the Literacy Assistance Center, 6 (1), 1-9.

Fried-Booth, D. L. (1997). Project work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Milter, R & Stinson, J. (n.d.). Design and Implementation of an Electronic Collaborative Learning Platform. Retrieved on 25th January, 2009 from:

Murdoch, P. (2005). Collaborative learning. Retrieved on 25th January, 2009 from:

Stinson, J. and Milter, R. (n.d.). Problem-Based Learning in Business Education. Retrieved on 25th January, 2009 from:

Tekinarslan E. (2004). Project-based Distributed Learning and Adult Learners. Retrieved on 25th January, 2009 from:

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