Collaboration or division of labor?

I believe in collaboration. I think that when multiple persons perspective and preunderstanding are used to try to understand a knowledge area or problem, it will be better.
Partly because their own limited understanding can be complemented by others’ understanding. Partly because collaboration is based on communication and in communication with others, I have the opportunity to formulate my own understanding.
But is group work always collaborative? My experience with group work is that they rarely contain collective reflection and often means division of labor.

But to divide the work, is it something negative? Although collaboration is lacking, division of labor can have advantages.
Batt & Doellgast (2006, p.6) refers to group members learning ”who can what” in a group relies on each other’s skills to perform different parts of the work. This means that a group together has more skills to do a job or solve a problem if the team members know each other well. However, for groups who do not know each other as well and representing different backgrounds, there is a risk of instead focusing on shared knowledge and what is common (Batt & Doellgast, 2006).

Online groups can also differ from face-to-face groups. When we meet in the same physical space, it’s easier to get to know each other. Small talk and body language contribute to communication, aspects that are lost in many online situations where text-based communication is used. If group work online uses video-based online meetings, they can compensate for a share of the multimodality that the physical space offers.
But there can also be, as Lowes (2014) mentions, an advantage for online groups in that the leadership of the group is more readily accepted and the negotiation of how a task is solved can take less time for online groups in relation to face-to-face groups.
I think the social interaction in the group is a key to if a group work is going to work well. Therefore, efforts to create a good interaction and group climate can be important.

Even though the interaction works well, there is not automatically collaboration. Lowes (2014) highlights some keys to a good course design that favours collaboration:
that each student’s work effort is required and becomes a crucial part of the group’s final product.
that the opportunity of using a shared online area (such as shared folder and documents) makes it easier to collaborate.
that the students get a very clear description of the expectations of the collaboration.

We may assume that students “know” the methods for group work, that they “know” how a collaboration works and that they “know” what the teacher wants to accomplish in terms of learning and knowledge design. But in the same way as many other skills, I think they need training and clear information to make teamwork collaborative and effective.
Otherwise, group work will be only be division of individual tasks.


Batt, R. & Doellgast, V. (2006). Groups, Teams, and the Division of Labor —Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Organization of Work
URL 20181126:

Lowes, S. (2014). How Much “Group” is there in Online Group Work?