Collaboration types

Here we list some typologies (or taxonomies) of collaborative actions and environments.

A typology based on interactivity and group size

Timothy Butler and David Coleman (2003), suggest five fundamental models of collaboration (figure reproduced from Collaborative Strategies newsletter):

  • Library (a few people place material in a repository, many draw on it)
  • Solicitation (a few people place requests, many respond e.g. a Request for Proposal system)
  • Team (a small group working together on a project)
  • Community (e.g. a Community of Practice)
  • Process Support (systems that support repetitive workflows)

A particular collaborative situation may of course contain elements of all of the above. Butler and Coleman suggest that one can in fact often add value to a collaborative environment by considering how it could be enhanced by incorporating elements from more of the models.

A typology based on communication patterns

Clay Shirky (2003), suggests three types of communication patterns:

  • point-to-point two-way (as in phone calls)
  • one-to-many outbound (as in newsletters)
  • many-to-many two-way (as in a group discussion)

The Internet provides all sorts of tools for the first two, but what is really revolutionary about the Internet is that it facilitates many-to-many two-way communication patterns. "Prior to the Internet, the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table. There was no technological mediation for group conversations. The closest we got was the conference call, which never really worked right -- 'Hello? Do I push this button now? Oh, shoot, I just hung up.' It's not easy to set up a conference call, but it's very easy to email five of your friends and say 'Hey, where are we going for pizza?' So ridiculously easy group forming is really news." Many-to-many two-way interaction via computer networks, what Shirky calls social software, has been in widespread use only since about 1993. One thing that is useful about this relatively simple typology is that it alerts us to the kinds of issues to expect - e.g., if it is many-to-many two-way, then expect group dynamics to be an issue.

A typology based on spaces

Although not intended as a formal typology, George Siemens' (2003) suggestion about how learning environments should be structured is a very useful summary of what is needed:

  • A space for gurus and beginners to connect (provide mentorship)
  • A space for self-expression (blog)
  • A space for debate and dialogue (discussion forum/listserv)
  • A space to search for archived knowledge
  • A space to learn in a structured manner (tutorials)

A typology based on interaction

Terry Anderson's (2003) equivalency theorem isn't exactly a typology of collaboration, but places collaboration within a larger typology of interaction. The theorem -

Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience. - Anderson (2003)



Figure 1. Modes of Interaction in Distance Education from Anderson and Garrison (1998).

A micro-collaborations typology

In addition to the broad classification schemes reviewed above, it may also be useful to try and construct a simple list of the kinds of "micro-collaborations" that people engage in, e.g.:

A media-centric typology - from We Media by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis (2003)

  • commentary
  • filtering, editing and ranking
  • fact-checking
  • grassroots reporting
  • annotative reporting
  • peer review
  • broadcasting
  • buying, selling and advertising
  • knowledge management

Collaboration as the intersection of self, others and ideas

This useful diagram comes from Lilia Efimova' s blog:



Collaboration as cognitive apprenticeship

In a pdf slide show Van Wiegel (2003) crosses 6 types of cognitive apprenticeship with 5 types of "knowledge rooms" to show how learning happens through collaboration. The types of cognitive apprenticeship are modelling (watch demonstration), coaching (do task and get feedback), scaffolding (get helps with task), articulating (make reasoning explicit), reflecting (critique own performance), exploring (tackle new domains). The "knowledge room" are research center, skill workplace, conference center, debate hall, and portfolio gallery. These ideas were first published in Weigel, Van (2001). Deep Learning for a Digital Age: Technology's Untapped Potential to Enrich Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing, which has been reviewed by Leslie Dare (2002).


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