When Collaborative Learning isn’t an Open-Office Plan for Kids

According to Adams Becker et al. (2017, p. 20), “the advent of educational technology is spurring more collaborative learning opportunities,” driving innovation in a symbiotic relationship that pushes development in both areas as a product of the other. Collaborative learning and the technological developments that help drive it are trends but not fads.

The confluence of collaborative learning and educational technology.

It may be easy to draw parallels between collaborative learning and open-plan offices. This corporate architecture fad of recent years does appear to be in the same spirit as collaborative learning, and the technological tools that are used in conjunction with open-plan offices—or in spite of them—do have a supporting relationship. But the similarities stop there. Open-plan offices had the best intentions of creating more face-to-face interaction with colleagues but has been proven to reduce such interaction by a drastic margin, pushing employees to use alternative text-based methods of communication in light of social pressure to “look busy” amongst coworkers (James, 2019).

There is one carry-over from corporate collaboration that is fruitful in collaborative learning spaces: synchronous communication via messaging apps such as Slack. These interactions are purposeful and augment the authentic active learning students engage in with collaborative learning. Just as workers do not operate in silos within an organization, students are encouraged to engage with others in various collaborative methods. Educational research and practice reinforce these lessons learned from the corporate world, and are helpful forces driving innovation and advancement in collaborative learning practice and technology.


Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., & Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC Horizon report: 2017 higher education edition. Austin, TX: T. N. M. Consortium.

James, G. (2019). Open-plan offices literally make you stupid, according to Harvard.  Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/open-plan-offices-literally-make-you-stupid-according-to-harvard.html