CSCL is a major method for bringing the benefits of collaborative learning and cooperative learning to users of distance or co-locative learning via networked computers, such as the courses offered via the Internet or in a digital classroom. The purpose of CSCL is to scaffold or support students in learning together effectively. CSCL supports the communication of ideas and information among learners, collaborative accessing of information and documents, and instructor and peer feedback on learning activities. CSCL also supports and facilitates group processes and group dynamics in ways that are not achievable by face-to-face communication (such as having learners label aspects of their communication).
Due to the surge of distance learning via the Internet, including courses that employ CSCL, it is important that educators and instructional designers better understand the benefits and limitations of CSCL. Like many educational activities, it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of CSCL activities. Early efforts focused on suspected detrimental effects of communication filtering of computer mediated communication (CMC) and ignored the potential benefits of CMC. Historically, the lack of evidence that technological innovations have improved learning in formal education highlights the need for evidence of whether, how and when expected improvements in learning take place.
A key characteristic of CSCL research is its diversity in methodology: CSCL researchers apply laboratory experimental methods, quasi-experimental approaches, discourse analyses, or case studies.
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