Developing Collaboration Skills

Over the next couple of weeks we will be writing some posts about the new Microsoft Professional Learning program, 21st Century Learning Design.

Sean Tierney, Academic Programs Manager for Microsoft Australia, best introduces 21st Century learning Design below:

"Globally, there is a compelling need to develop transferable learning-how-to-learn capabilities in young people that enable them to thrive and contribute to ever-changing, new and challenging contexts.

Microsoft has a strong commitment to providing the highest quality Anytime, Anywhere Learning for All, and has been at the forefront of addressing this by undertaking a global research project in partnership with SRI International and Langworthy Research.From this, 21st Century Learning Design (21C LD) emerged as a program that makes a powerful difference to learning by focusing on teachers as learning architects, and showing them how to design learning that actively develops these capabilities in students.”

21CLD focuses on strengthening one or more of the following dimensions through discussion on Learning Activities:

  • Collaboration
  • Knowledge Building
  • Self Regulation
  • Real World Innovation and Problem Solving
  • ICT for Learning
  • Skilful Communication

Today we will start with collaboration.

What exactly is Collaboration?

Not all learning activities can be collaborative, however when considering if an activity has a strong focus on developing collaboration skills in students, the four questions below can drive preparation.

1. Do learners work together?

Learners work informally together when they help each other’s learning or when they ask each other for support in order to complete their own work.This may include connecting with an expert in a particular research area, or connecting with community members in order to complete learning activities.

Two examples of learners working together are:

  1. Pairs of learners give each other feedback on their individual learning work,
  2. A small group brainstorms inquiry topics they would like to learn about; each learner then selects one to individually investigate.

2. Do they have shared responsibility for achieving joint outcome?

Learners have shared responsibility when they work together to develop a common or joint outcome, product, design, response or decision. This gives them a reason and shared purpose for working together. It is more than just helping each other, it is collectivity owning the product and being mutually responsible for the outcome.

Two examples of shared responsibility are:

  1. Partners co-develop a letter to go to their local member of Parliament, raising a concern that is affecting their school.They review their writing together, each suggesting changes to improve it before the final letter is signed by both and sent.
  2. Partners conduct a lab experiment together, with shared responsibility for carrying out the lab experiment: they must decide who will do what, and produce a joint report. Each partner must be able to explain their results and how they were obtained.

3. Do learners make substantive decisions together?

Learning and collaboration are both strengthened considerably when learners must make substantive decisions and resolve important issues that will guide their work together. Substantive decisions are decisions that shape the goals, content, process, outcome or product of learners’ work.

Two examples of substantive decision making are:

  1. Team members work to conduct a joint research project. They negotiate and decide on their approach, work plan and schedule, and the roles and responsibilities each team member will undertake.
  2. Partners decide what their presentation will include and look like for a particular audience and context.

4. Is their work interdependent?

Learning work is interdependent when all learners must participate equitably in order for the team to succeed. It is important that collaborative learning work is structured to require an outcome to which all members have contributed. It must take the work of all team members into account so that their outcome or product is complete and fits together.

Two examples of interdependent work are:

  1. Team members each research a different internal system of frogs (e.g. circulation, organs, digestion...) They then work together to dissect a frog and write a lab report about the dissection, identifying frog parts and the systems to which they belong.
  2. Four learners work together to create a website that attracts tourists to their local area. They clarify their shared goals and potential audiences, negotiate roles and responsibilities, determine their plan and schedule, and each team member researches a different aspect: history, culture, attractions and accommodations


Some examples of Learning Activities from the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network that have strong Collaborative elements include:

  • The ‘Brownlow’ Assignment (login required) A Yr 7 Maths Assignment from 2014 Microsoft Australian Expert Educator Terry Byers from Churchie, Brisbane. Video featured above.
  • Art Fights bullying (no login required) A multimodal project to inform others about Bullying.
  • Fun, education, stop motion animation (no login required) Create Stop Motion Animation in a variety of subject areas
  • Math raps (no login required) Create Rap videos for Maths, with each student choosing a production area to ensure a professionally developed movie.

What Learning Activity do you lead that develops Collaboration? What activities can you further develop?

To find out more about 21st Century Learning Design Professional Learning Program contact -

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