Challenges of collaborative learning and its assessment

By Marisa Graser

Collaborative learning is a concept that takes an important place in higher education. By having students learn and work together, they can develop a variety of soft skills that are relevant to succeed in today’s team-based work environments. However, according to Meijer et al. (2020), one of the main challenges for teachers and students is the assessment of collaborative learning activities. Three types of assessment are commonly used: Group assessments, personalised assessments, and a combination of peer and group assessment.

Group assessments

In group assessments, one grade is assigned for all students in the same group. This fosters teamwork and positive interdependence, meaning that students believe working in a group benefits their own learning experience and outcomes. However, individual efforts exceeding or falling below the overall mark become indistinguishable. Additionally, the outcome of the assessment is strongly dependent on the performance of fellow students: A student placed in a high-achieving group might get a better grade than a student with the same abilities in a low-achieving group. Students might also rely on others to carry out their part of the work instead of investing individual effort.

Personalised assessments

When choosing to provide a personalised assessment instead, some of the negative effects of group assessments can be mitigated. Individual accountability and a better validity can be achieved. Nevertheless, marks will still be influenced by the group environment, like the behaviour of fellow group members. Furthermore, students might not perceive genuine collaboration as important to get a good mark.

Combination of group and peer assessment

Lastly, intra-group peer assessment, where each student assesses fellow group members, can be combined with a group score by the teacher. The peer assessment can stimulate students’ participation in the group and the group assessment promotes positive interdependence. However, this form of assessment focusses on the quality of the collaboration rather than the outcome and fails to acknowledge individual abilities.

In summary, Meijer et al. point out that all assessment approaches face challenges with regards to individual accountability and positive interdependence, and thereby might contradict the original objectives of collaborative learning like knowledge exchange and social support.

Ideas on how to design the assessment of collaborative learning successfully

Adherence to individual accountability and positive interdependence

To avoid the pitfalls of assessing collaborative learning, Meijer et al. present two approaches. Firstly, they suggest adhering to both individual accountability and positive interdependence through the thoughtful design of the assessment. One way could be to assess collaborative learning in a formative rather than a summative frame, for example by having students prepare and present content (Kagan 1995), or work in tutorial groups (Opdecam et al. 2014), all under supervision and with feedback from the teacher. Another option could be to provide the students with guidance on collaborative learning to practice important skills prior to the group activity, i.e. with the aid of lectures and interactive training like role plays (Rebollar et al. 2010).

Alignment of eight core components for collaborative design – the GLAID framework

Secondly, Meijer et al. suggest the use of the GLAID framework as a guide for teachers to design the assessment. This framework consists of eight components:

  1. Interaction,
  2. Learning objectives and outcomes,
  3. Assessment,
  4. Task characteristics,
  5. Structuring,
  6. Guidance,
  7. Group constellation,
  8. Facilities (De Hei et al. 2016).

Using this framework when designing a collaborative learning activity can help the teacher to align all eight core components. For example, when teamwork is the main learning outcome (2), the assessment (3) can take the form of a group assessment if the group constellation (7) is taken into account, i.e. all students in the group have similar abilities.

Impact of good assessment design

By designing and aligning a collaborative learning activity thoughtfully, two goals can be achieved: The intended objectives and outcomes, like improving motivation and communication skills, can be reached; and the assessment truly measures the learning objectives without promoting misaligned student behaviour.

Successful implementation of these principles shows for example when using a combination of group and peer assessment in a formative setting (Sridharan et al. 2019). Meijer et al. predict that individualised feedback both by peers and the teacher can be provided, whilst collaboration is promoted, and misaligned student behaviour might be discouraged without the pressure of a final mark in the background.

When choosing to support the collaborative learning activity with prior lectures and interactive training, students will be more proficient in collaboration and communication, which can improve the results of the following group assessment (Rebollar et al. 2010).

And by aligning the group exercise with the GLAID framework, group dynamics can be influenced positively, which has been shown to increase the perception of a "fair" assessment by the students (Ohaja et al. 2013).

Overall, increasing the awareness amongst both teachers and students to the interplay of factors that influence the design, execution, and assessment of group activities from both points of view is key to a successful implementation of a collaborative learning approach.


Q: How do teachers and students perceive the effectiveness of these assessment methods in real classroom settings?

A: Teachers and students often have varied perceptions about the effectiveness of different assessment methods in collaborative learning. Some teachers find that group assessments can simplify the marking process and encourage teamwork, but they also recognise the challenge of fairly assessing individual contributions. Students, on the other hand, may appreciate the opportunity to work with peers but can feel frustrated if their individual efforts are not recognised. The concept of student voice is important here, as it highlights the need for educators to listen to and incorporate students' feedback and perspectives in refining assessment methods. This feedback loop can help in adjusting approaches to better meet the needs of both students and educators, making the learning experience more effective and enjoyable.

Q: What are the specific challenges in implementing the GLAID framework in diverse educational settings?

A: Implementing the GLAID framework in diverse educational settings presents several challenges. These include ensuring that all educators are adequately trained to apply the framework, adapting the components to fit various subjects and student groups, and securing the necessary resources and facilities. The diversity in educational environments means that what works well in one context may not be as effective in another. Additionally, engaging student voice in the process can help identify and overcome these challenges by allowing for adjustments based on direct feedback from learners. This approach ensures that the framework is applied in a way that is sensitive to the specific needs and conditions of each educational setting, thereby maximising its effectiveness.

Q: How do these assessment strategies impact the long-term development of students' soft skills and academic performance?

A: The impact of these assessment strategies on the long-term development of students' soft skills and academic performance is significant. By engaging in collaborative learning and being assessed through methods that value both individual accountability and group dynamics, students can develop critical soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These skills are highly valued in the workplace and can enhance students' employability. Furthermore, incorporating student voice into the development and refinement of assessment strategies ensures that students feel heard and valued, which can increase motivation and engagement. Over time, this approach not only supports the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge but also fosters a positive learning environment that encourages continuous improvement and personal development.


[Source Paper] Hajo Meijer, Rink Hoekstra, Jasperina Brouwer & Jan-Willem Strijbos (2020) Unfolding collaborative learning assessment literacy: a reflection on current assessment methods in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45:8, 1222-1240.
DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2020.1729696

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DOI: 10.1016/j.edurev.2016.01.001

[2] Kagan, S. 1995. "Group Grades Miss the Mark." Educational Leadership 52 (8): 68–71.

[3] Ohaja, M., M. Dunlea, and K. Muldoon. 2013. "Group Marking and Peer Assessment during a Group Poster Presentation: The Experiences and Views of Midwifery Students." Nurse Education in Practice 13 (5): 466–470.
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[4] Opdecam, E., P.Everaert, HVan Keer, and F. Buysschaert. 2014. "Preferences for Team Learning and Lecture-Based Learning among First-Year Undergraduate Accounting Students." Research in Higher Education 55 (4): 400–432.
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[5] Rebollar, R., I. Lidón, J. L. Cano, F. Gimeno, and P. Qvist. 2010. "A Tool for Preventing Teamwork Failure: The TFP Questionnaire." International Journal of Engineering Education 26 (4): 784–799.

[6] Sridharan, B., J. Tai, and D. Boud. 2019. "Does the Use of Summative Peer Assessment in Collaborative Group Work Inhibit Good Judgement?" Higher Education 77 (5): 853–870.
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-018-0305-7

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