Collaborative Learning Environments for Dummies?
September 3, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to organize a series of classes based on a collaborative learning environment, but I need some information about how a non-hierarchical classroom could actually work.

Backstory: I want to learn things, other people want to learn things, but none of us are really experts. So let's all do this together! Think recurring book club on steroids.

There's some stuff on Wikipedia about collaborative learning, but most of it is business or task-oriented. We'd be working through a book on bookbinding together, not trying to build a spaceship. It seems pretty easy when you're making things, but the further you get into the intellectual realm the more difficult this seems to get.

What I've got so far: One person is designated the instructor and acts as a mediator, reading ahead and keeping everyone on task, but beyond that I'm pretty lost. The more structured it is and the more power we give the instructor the easier it should be, but the whole point is acknowledging that the person in charge doesn't know much more than any given person in the class, and everyone's input is valuable. We'll also be charging participants to trick them into valuing the class and keeping things a little more serious (although we'll probably refund most of their money at the end of the series).

I'm looking for info on organizations that foster a similar type of environment, anecdotes about how to successfully manage people in this type of situation, or pointers about systems that we could learn from or emulate!

and if you live in NYC and are interested in being a guinea pig, memail me and we'll see what we can do!
posted by soma lkzx to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, man, I used to do this! I still sort of do, on a more casual basis. It's so much fun, and a lot easier to facilitate than you'd think, I swear. This was actually how I learned bookbinding myself! (I have had some seriously wonderful experiences taking part in collective-based "free schooling" like this, and I recommend it to everyone. Yay!)

Try googling "free school in (your area)", or "skillshare in (your area)". You're in NYC, so there are probably TONS and tons of places around you that are into this sort of thing already - one place I've heard of that sounds super neat is ABC No Rio ( They have workshops, some really cool facilities, and you could probably meet tons of people who are also into non-hierarchal education there.

I also highly recommend the book "Teaching To Transgress", by bell hooks. You might also look into running your group as a consensus collective (; in my experience, this is a wonderfully viable alternative to making decisions and guiding meetings/classes/what have you by a hierarchal structure. It tends to run smoothest with small groups, but if you don't mind meetings running a little long, it's totally workable for larger groups, too.
posted by ellehumour at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A skillshare recently opened up shop in brooklyn, and a lot of those sources you just dropped look great. One thing I wonder about is that a lot of these things seem to go in an artistic/activist direction - we'll certainly have creative aspects to our classes, but it's directing the academic ones that I'm a little more intimidated by. Teaching to Trangress should definitely address that, but anything that stresses the more bookish side is totally appreciated.

It tends to run smoothest with small groups, but if you don't mind meetings running a little long, it's totally workable for larger groups, too.

How many people constitutes a small vs. large group? I figure large groups are always more trouble, but I'm unsure what the cutoff might be.
posted by soma lkzx at 11:44 AM on September 3, 2009

You might look at the roles involved in project-based learning. One thing that can work well in a system like this is to have one or two people take on the role of a guide or advance scout that works slightly ahead of the other members/students to lead the discussion/learning on their assigned day.
posted by mattbucher at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2009

A small group in my experience is anywhere from three to 10 people; anything upwards of ten may require more time and space, which is why I mentioned free schools - helping folks get that sort of thing established and running is what they do.

For more resources focusing specifically on the academic end of things, definitely hit up your local infoshop and/or anarchist bookstore and ask for stuff on free schooling, deschooling, and collective learning processes. The book "Deschooling our Lives" by Matt Hern is also really good - you can get it from AK Press. Actually, AK Press has a lot of good titles relating to alternative education.
posted by ellehumour at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2009

« Older Incompatible format   |   My thetan and I aren't exactly on speaking terms Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.