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Individual Learning vs. Collaborative Learning

written by: lauraleemoss • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/2/2012

How do you compare individual learning vs collaborative learning? They do have similarities and differences. As teachers, if you need to decide which approach to take for a project or assignment, continue reading.

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    Time Requirement

    Teachers' prep time differs in collaborative and individual activities, as does the time students invest.

    Individual learning lets students work at their own pace, which has positives and negatives. Some students will finish quickly and either feel accomplished or be bored in class. Others may not finish in class and plan to finish at home (which may or may not happen). Additionally, individual learning requires students to manage their time, which some students may not handle well. Teachers should spend time teaching study skills if necessary and should always provide structure with individual learning.

    Teaching collaborative learning takes planning, maybe more in the secondary setting. Elementary and middle school students are often eager to work together, but high school students may be wary of doing so. Teachers must explain expectations and assign different roles for each group member. Teachers must monitor students so they stay on task. Students may work faster than they do individually because they have more help. They could work slower, however, if the group does not function well or if some members need extra explanations.

    Teaching collaboratively. 

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    Homework

    Teachers typically assign different types of homework for individuals vs collaborative groups. One reason is because of ease and another deals with fairness.

    It is easier for teachers to assign homework to individuals because the students only depend on themselves to finish the assignment. Since only one person is working, the assignments are normally smaller. Students can individually ask for help and students cannot copy off a group member. In collaborative learning, students depend on others for help, which is a great benefit, unless they take advantage of that.

    In collaborative learning, homework consists of larger assignments. Too often collaborative groups do not work fairly, and one or two students do the work. Collaborating outside the classroom is also a struggle, as students may not be able to meet. If done properly, groups are proud of their finished assignment and have learned important skills for working with others.

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    Grading

    Grading assignments from individual learning is normally straightforward. Students (should) know how teachers grade and what is expected of an assignment. Teachers are normally comfortable grading individual work.

    Collaborative projects may cause snags when grading. Some students may have not worked equally, the project may be only partially complete or only part may be done correctly. Rubrics (given in advance) should address such issues. Rubrics can have a section for individual participation. Some teachers are comfortable allowing group members to evaluate each other for consideration in grading. Another difference from individual grading is the time invested. Teachers give more explanations for collaborative work than individual, since collaborative work often raises more questions among different people.

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    Final Similarities and Differences

    Overall, time is the largest difference between individual and collaborative learning. Teachers spend more time planning and grading collaborative work because more things can go wrong. Homework is tricky with collaborative learning due to coordinating students' schedules outside of school. Individual learning is used more often, as it is clear-cut in handling concerns, although collaborative learning has many benefits.

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