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Collaborative Intelligence in Digital Environments!

By Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall and Dr Julie Brook

Technology has undoubtedly opened several new opportunities for learning within digital environments. Cope and Kalantzis (2017) identified seven “new learning affordances opened up by digital media” (p. 13). One such affordance is collaborative intelligence. Collaborative intelligence encourages creating dynamic opportunities for learning communities to collaboratively create, refine, and share knowledge that models authentic learning experiences to prepare learners for educational growth and lifelong learning. In this model, intelligence is distributed amongst individuals and environments, and this is accomplished through social interactions rather than at the individual memorization of content. From this perspective, intelligence emerges through collaborative activities and by connections and interactions (Blanken-Web, 2017). Collaborative intelligence involves promoting “a culture of knowledge sourcing and developing skills and strategies for knowledge collaboration and social learning” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2017, p. 34). The central idea behind collaborative intelligence is that knowledge and understanding are deeply rooted and enhanced by social interactions and that it relies on a network of connections (Gee, 2014).

Because of the emergence of Web 2.0 tools and e-learning, a pedagogical paradigm shift from traditional didactic pedagogy to reflexive pedagogy potentially occurs; however, as Cope and Kalantzis pointed out (2017), the potential to merely replace didactic pedagogy when designing digital environments likewise occurs, and this is a consideration that is needed to be made by online course developers. Didactic pedagogy involves learning confined to four walls; reflexive pedagogy involves ubiquitous learning. “Ubiquitous learning means that we have transcended the old pedagogical separations of space (the wall so of the classroom) and time (the cells of the timetable)” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2017, p. 20). The reflexive approach promotes collaborative intelligence through peer-to-peer learning and moves away from a focus on the individual learner’s cognition. One aspect of e-learning environments is the ability to structure courses centered around collaborative intelligence. This environment is particularly conducive to collaborative intelligence since in traditional classrooms “a systematic process of collaboration [is] difficult to achieve” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2017, p. 35). When designing for e-learning environments, structure should be centered around peer collaboration to best promote collaborative intelligence as well as reflexive pedagogy. However, course designers and developers would need to have a clear understanding of the tools offered as well as be able to identify the purpose of their use.

Google apps for education are technology tools that theoretically can promote collaborative intelligence in digital environments. The case study “Google Apps in the Classroom: Why Google Apps?” argued that one of the key affordances to its use is the interoperability of the tools. GAFE has grown in popularity, with thousands of schools and millions of students registered due to the ease of use and the extensive suite of resources that cater to every aspect of education. These tools have been specifically designed to develop collaboration and communication skills, which are much-needed skills in the 21st Century. GAFE is an innovative technology tool that constantly undergoes review and improvement. GAFE supports collaborative learning while also allowing users to develop communication skills and includes a comprehensive list of different applications that are live, easy to use, and free to all educational institutions. As pointed out in the case study, these tools most closely line up with theories of the social mind and social learning (Wilkie, 2016, p. 8). The Google suite of applications for education promotes collaborative intelligence due to the live editing feature and the accessibility to any user. For example, an entire class of individual students could work together in real-time to create a Google doc or Google slides presentation.

Although there are many beneficial affordances this tool offers, course designers should realize potential weaknesses that can result. For example, although GAFE’s strengths are ease of use and interoperability, some institutions may not have consistent and reliable internet access, and all students may not have devices to work with. Further, time to implement and train all stakeholders may be a serious constraint since many teachers’, course developers’, and students’ time is very limited. Even though worries about consistent technology use for school districts may constrain the use of GAFE in e-learning environments, the overall benefits override the potential drawbacks.

Several other studies have likewise shown that the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 has enabled and made necessary the use of collaborative intelligence in e-learning environments. Siemens (2004) proposed that knowledge is created beyond the individual and constantly undergoes transformation through information networks and connections— “Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity…. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database)” (Siemens, 2004, p. 22). Further studies have shown that collaboration has been proven to improve academic achievement, student attitudes, and student retention (Prince, 2004). Kuhn (2015) found that collaborative learning in problem-based learning and collaboration that leads to metacognitive activity to be effective. Many Web 2.0 technologies facilitate the formation of collaborative intelligence and provide big data that can be analyzed to investigate the concept of collaborative intelligence more.

Further, Hussain (2012) discussed the point that the purpose of Web 2.0 tools--such as wikis, blogs, podcasts and other tools--identify learning as being “collaboratively constructed”. This supports the case study’s argument that tools such as the Google suite, can provide an e-learning ecology where in collaborative intelligence can thrive. Loureiro, A., Messias, I., and Barbas, M. (2012) noted that Web 2.0 (as well as 3.0) are “making changes in the way students acquire knowledge and information” (p. 532). Using the term “e-Literacies,” Loureiro et al. (2012) showed that the types of learning needed within e-learning environments are related to connected learning or collaborative learning. Technological advancements have both fueled the need for collaborative intelligence and provided the medium in e-learning environments where it can easily take place.

Thank you to Dr Julie Brook for co-writing this piece with me!


Blanken-Webb, J. (2017). Collaborative intelligence. In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), e- Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment (pp. 143-162). Routledge. ISBN: 978-1138193727

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.). (2017). e-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment. Routledge. ISBN: 978-1138193727

Gee, J. P. (2014). The social mind: Language, ideology, and social practice. Champaign, IL: Common Ground.

Hussain, F. (2012). E-Learning 3.0= E-Learning 2.0+ Web 3. 0? International Conference on

Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age. (CELDA 2012). P.11–18.

Kuhn, D. (2015). Thinking together and alone. Educational Researcher, 44(1),46-53. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from

Loureiro, A., Messias, I., & Barbas, M. (2012). Embracing Web 2.0 & 3.0 Tools to

Support Lifelong Learning - Let Learners Connect. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 532–537.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223–231. 9830.2004.tb00809.x

Siemens, G. (2004). elearnspace. Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved

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Wilkie, Lauren. (2016). Google apps in the classroom. EPSY 408. d


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