Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a research topic on supporting collaborative learning with the help of computers. It is related to Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). CSCL cuts across research in psychology, computer science, and education.
CSCL is a major method for bringing the benefits of collaborative learning and cooperative learning to users of distance learning via networked computers, such as the courses offered via the Internet. The purpose of CSCL is to scaffold or support students in learning together effectively. CSCL supports the communication of ideas and information among learners, collaborative accessing of information and documents, and instructor and peer feedback on learning activities. CSCL also supports and facilitates group processes and group dynamics in ways that are not achievable by face-to-face communication (such as having learners label aspects of their communication).
The most resilient features of the evolving field of CSCL include an emphasis on collaborative aspects of learning as well as individual ones, an identification of social interactions as an important element of knowledge construction, a focus on the learner(s) and their activities, a shift towards technological environments that promote authentic group learning, and finally, an increasing role for all technological artifacts that form a global network. Instructional designs employing CSCL generally target the acquisition of higher-order thinking skills, problem solving abilities, epistemic fluency and the collaborative improvement of knowledge within a field of practice. These learning goals require the analysis of processes (rather than just products) within complex and authentic contexts.
Due to the surge of distance learning via the Internet, including courses that employ CSCL, it is important that educators and instructional designers better understand the benefits and limitations of CSCL. Like many educational activities, it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of CSCL activities. Early efforts focused on suspected detrimental effects of communication filtering of computer mediated communication (CMC) and ignored the potential benefits of CMC. Historically, the lack of evidence that technological innovations have improved learning in formal education highlights the need for evidence of whether, how and when expected improvements in learning take place.
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