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  • Rebecca Savill

Social learning

In this short series of blog posts, we'll explain the research around some of the most established theories in learning science.

What it is

Collaborative learning is where individuals come together in a group setting to learn a specific topic or subject matter. It is an approach where participants learn from each other and engage in meaningful discussions.

Why it is beneficial

Multiple studies have found that those who study in a group setting achieve better results than those who study alone(1-7).

Group learning is a valuable learning method that provides numerous benefits. With improved memory retention, social support and motivation, opportunities to engage in peer-to-peer teaching and learning, and opportunities to practice and apply knowledge, group learning has been shown to be a fantastic addition to the learning process.

How does it work

One of the benefits of social learning is that group discussions allow each member to consider different perspectives and analyse information in a collaborative manner. This also reduces homogeneity and groupthink, as members of the group must consider their own ideas in light of the opinions of others(8).

Group learning is also effective at providing social support and motivation. Those who engage in group learning are more motivated to learn than those who learn in isolation(9). The social support and motivation provided by group learning can enhance engagement, focus, and overall performance.

Learning as part of a group also facilitates peer-to-peer learning, which has been shown to increase engagement and learning outcomes. This is because peer instruction uses more active learning, which has been proven to be more effective than passive learning(10-12).

Another reason why group learning is effective is that it provides opportunities to practice and apply knowledge, which leads to deeper understanding and retention of the subject matter(13,14).

Are there limitations?

Although collaborative learning is a proven way to make learning more motivating and effective, it is important that the group learning takes place within the right structure(15) and is focused on more complex learning tasks(16) such as problem-solving(17).

For that reason we have developed the Curio Class learning process ensure that the social aspect of learning is harnessed through a robust structure and encourages discussion, debate and problem-solving rather than just memorising information.

Find out more

This is just a quick overview about group learning to get you started and using the technique. More information can be found in the following places:


  • Cooperative Learning: Integrating Theory and Practice by Robyn M. Gillies

  • Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire Howell Major and K. Patricia Cross

  • The International Handbook of Collaborative Learning by Cindy Hmelo-Silver, Clark A. Chinn, Carol Chan and Angela O'Donnell

  • Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge by Kenneth Bruffee



  1. Johnson, D.W.; Johnson, R.T.; Smith, K.A. Cooperative learning: Improving University Instruction by Basing Practice on Validated Theory. J. Excell. Coll. Teach. 2014, 25, 85–118.

  2. Johnson, D.W.; Johnson, R.T. Social skills for successful group work. Educ. Leadersh. 1990, 47, 29–33.

  3. Johnson, D.W.; Johnson, R.T.; Smith, K.A. Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity; ASHE-ERIC Report on Higher Education; The George Washington University: Washington, DC, USA, 1991.

  4. Gamson, Z.F. Collaborative Learning comes of age. Change 1994, 65, 44–49.

  5. Smith, K.A. Cooperative learning: Making “group work” work. In Active Learning: Lessons from Practice and Emerging Issues. New Directions for Teaching and Learning;

  6. Bonwell, C., Sutherlund, T., Eds.; Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, USA, 1996; Volume 67, pp. 71–82.

  7. Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (1986). Action research: Cooperative learning in the science classroom. Science and Children, 24, 31-32.

  8. Gokhale, A.A., 1995. Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking. Journal of Technology Education, 7(1), pp.22–30.

  9. Tran V.D., 2019. Does Cooperative Learning Increase Students' Motivation in Learning?. International Journal of Higher Education, v8 n5 p12-20

  10. Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur , "Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results", American Journal of Physics 69, 970-977 (2001)

  11. Lasry, N., Mazur, E., and Watkins, J., 2008. "Peer instruction: From Harvard to the two-year college", American Journal of Physics 76, 1066-1069

  12. Fagen, A.P., Crouch, C.H., and Mazur, E. 2002., "Peer Instruction: Results from a Range of Classrooms", The Physics Teacher 40, 206-209

  13. C. Nikendei, B. Kraus, M. Schrauth, P. Weyrich, S. Zipfel, W. Herzog & J. Jünger (2007) Integration of role-playing into technical skills training: a randomized controlled trial, Medical Teacher, 29:9-10, 956-960

  14. Rao, D., 2011., Skills Development Using Role-Play in a First-Year Pharmacy Practice Course, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Jun 2011, 75 (5) 84

  15. Slavin, R.E. 1996., Research on Cooperative Learning and Achievement: What We Know, What We Need to Know., CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 21, 43–69

  16. Kirschner, F., Paas, F. and Kirschner, P.A. (2011), Task complexity as a driver for collaborative learning efficiency: The collective working-memory effect. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 25: 615-624.

  17. Femke Kirschner, Fred Paas, Paul A. Kirschner, Jeroen Janssen, Differential effects of problem-solving demands on individual and collaborative learning outcomes, Learning and Instruction, Volume 21, Issue 4, 2011, Pages 587-599,


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