Analyzing collaboration

Noel Enyedy, Reed Stevens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

27 Scopus citations


The study of collaboration has been part of the learning sciences from its inception. However, articles have appeared that use different definitions of collaboration, that give different reasons for studying it, and that use different methods. This variability has continued to the present. To help make sense of this variety, we propose that the spectrum of methodologies used in collaboration research can be usefully divided into four groups, associated with four different reasons to study collaboration (see Table 10.1): Collaboration-as-a-window, collaboration-for-distal-outcomes, collaboration-for-proximal-outcomes, and collaboration-as-learning. It is tempting to try to place these four approaches along a single continuum. For example, Howley, Mayfield, and Rose (2013) provide a well-organized discussion of approaches to studying collaboration that range from a focus on the individual as the unit of analysis to a focus on collaborative processes for enculturation as the unit of analysis (also see the "elemental" and "systemic" distinction in Nathan & Sawyer, Chapter 2, this volume). However, we find that a single dimension unnecessarily flattens the research topology on collaboration and learning. Instead, we propose that these four approaches can be distinguished along four dimensions, as shown in Table 10.1: The unit of analysis for describing processes of collaboration and cognition; the unit of analysis for documenting learning outcomes; the degree to which these outcomes are operationalized as proximal (within the collaboration) or distal (outside the collaboration); and the degree to which a normative stance is taken on collaboration. We argue that these four dimensions, and the assumptions that accompany them, provide insight into the methodological choices that researchers have made and may make in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139519526
ISBN (Print)9781107033252
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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