A Systematic Review of Research on Online Learner Collaboration from 2012–21: Collaboration Technologies, Design, Facilitation, and Outcomes





Online Learner Collaboration, Virtual Collaboration, Systematic Review, Collaboration Design, Collaboration Facilitation, Collaboration Outcomes


Online Learner Collaboration (OLC) supports the development of knowledge and skills through social construction. In this systematic review of research spanning a decade, authors examined 63 articles for publication patterns, participant and context trends, and research methodology trends using an online learner collaboration framework consisting of the following elements: collaborative technologies, design, facilitation, and outcomes. The higher education context and education discipline had the most research conducted on OLC among the studies reviewed. All three research methods (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods) were used equally in the articles. The most commonly used technologies for OLC were learning management systems (LMS), discussion boards, writing tools, and synchronous tools. The most commonly used collaborative methods were group projects and discussions. The most common grouping size was small groups, and groups were commonly formed through random assignment, based on criteria, or student-formed. Instructors mostly assumed roles as designers, facilitators, supporters, and evaluators during OLC. Increased learning, communication and collaboration skills, and relationship building were the top three opportunities that OLC offered. Time, technical issues, and anxiety/fear/stress were challenges that appeared most frequently. Most of the research on OLC focused on cognitive and affective outcomes. The review has implications for online instructors and instructional designers who design and facilitate collaborative online courses.

Author Biographies

Beth Oyarzun, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Dr. Beth Oyarzun is a Clinical Associate Professor of Learning Design and Technology (LDT) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She teaches fully online courses in LDT and serves as the Program Director for both the Master of Education and graduate certificate degrees in LDT.   Her research areas of interest surround online teaching and learning pedagogy and technology integration into effective instruction. Beth has been teaching for over 25 years including high school mathematics teaching, undergraduate teaching in LDT, training university faculty in online teaching, and teaching graduate students in LDT. She currently serves as the Vice President of Communications for the Division of Distance Learning in the Association of Educational Communications Technology (AECT).

Florence Martin, North Carolina State University

Dr. Florence Martin is a Professor in Learning, Design and Technology at NC State University. She received her Doctorate and Master's degrees in Educational Technology from Arizona State University. Dr. Martin engages in research focusing on the effective design of instruction and integration of digital technology to improve learning and performance. Her research has resulted in over 50 publications and 100 presentations. She has conducted several studies focusing on designing and integrating online learning environments to improve learner achievement and engagement.


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Systematic Reviews of Research on Online Learning