You are here:

Online Project-Based Learning: How Collaborative Strategies and Problem Solving Processes Impact Performance

, East Baton Rouge Arts and Technology School, United States ; , Louisiana State University, United States

Journal of Interactive Learning Research Volume 16, Number 1, ISSN 1093-023X Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC


The goal of this study was to gain insights into the interactions that occur in online communications in a project-based learning activity implemented in an undergraduate course. A multi-case study was conducted of six collaborative groups, focusing on the types and frequencies of interactions that occurred within each group and the perceptions that students had of their experiences in this type of learning environment. It was found that the interactions within each group closely followed established steps in the problem solving process. The findings of this study go further in explaining specific indicators that may determine how well a group performs when using CMC as a support mechanism for project-based learning. High achievers tend to start early, are consistent in the frequency and extent to which they post messages, develop a sense of camaraderie online, are effective organizers and coordinators within the online environment, and engage in a deep, rich thought provoking dialog with a high degree of idea exchange. Low achievers on the other hand are slow starters, are erratic and inconsistent in posting messages, do not form bonds online, are not effective in organizing and accomplishing tasks online, and engage in shallow, directive dialog with little questioning and exchange of ideas. Students also differentiated between asynchronous and synchronous systems as to the type of tasks that are best suited for each. There was a general consensus that the asynchronous system are best for tasks that require reflection, time, and deeper thought and synchronous systems are better for brainstorming, as a forum for the free flow of ideas, and for building group solidarity and social connection.


Thomas, W.R. & MacGregor, S.K. (2005). Online Project-Based Learning: How Collaborative Strategies and Problem Solving Processes Impact Performance. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(1), 83-107. Norfolk, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved January 19, 2019 from .


View References & Citations Map


  1. Alexander, D. S., & DeAlba, L. M. (1997). Groups for proofs: Collaborative learning in a mathematics reasoning course. PRIMUS, 7(3), 193-207.
  2. Berelson, B. (1952). Content analysis in communications research. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Berens, L., (1996). Type & Temperament. Bulletin of Psychological Type, 19(2), 8-9. Biesenbach-Lucas, S. (2003). Asynchronous discussion groups in teacher training classes: Perceptions of native and non-native students. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3). Retrieved November 20, 2003 from
  3. Bosworth, K. (1994). Developing collaborative skills in college students. In K. Bosworth & S. Hamilton (Eds.), Collaborative learning: Underlying processes and effective techniques. Number 59, 25-31, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  4. Bransford, J. D., & Stein, B. S. (1993). The IDEAL problem solver (3rd ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
  5. Bruffee, K. A. (1999). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  6. Caplow, J. A. H., & Kardash, C. A. M. (1995). Collaborative learning activities in graduate courses. Innovative Higher Education, 19(8), 207-220.
  7. Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.
  8. Dansereau, D. F. (1983). Cooperative learning: Impact on acquisition of knowledge and skills. (Report No. 341). Abilene, Texas: U.S. Army Research for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 243 008). Thomas and MacGregor
  9. Davies, M. F. (1996). Social interaction. In Hare, A. P. Blumberg, H. H., Davies, M. F., & Kent, V. K. (Eds.). Small groups: An introduction. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  10. Glasser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.
  11. Groccia, J. E., & Miller, J. E. (1996). Collegiality in the classroom: The use of peer learning assistants in cooperative learning in introductory biology. Innovative Higher Education, 21(2), 87-100.
  12. Gunawardena, C. N., Anderson, T., & Lowe, C. A. (1996). Interaction analysis of a global on-line debate and the development of a constructivist interaction analysis model for computer conferencing. Paper presented at The Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, New York.
  13. Hara, N., Bonk, C. J., & Angeli, C. (2000). Content analysis of online discussion in an applied educational psychology class. Instructional Science, 28(2), 115-152.
  14. Hare, A. P. (1976). Handbook of small group research (2nd ed.). New York: The Free Press. Hare, A. P. (1992). Groups, teams, and social interaction: Theories and applications. New York: Praeger.
  15. Henri, F. (1991). Computer conferencing and content analysis. In Collaborative learning through computer conferencing: The Najaden Papers. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  16. Hiltz, S. R., Coppola, N., Rotter, N., & Turoff, M. (2000). Measuring the importance of collaborative learning for the effectiveness of ALN: A multi-measure, multi-method approach. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 4(2). Retrieved July 18, 2002 from
  17. Hong, K., Lai, K., & Holton, D. (2003). Student’s satisfaction and perceived learning with a web-based course. Educational Technology & Society, 6(1). Retrieved November 20, 2003 from
  18. Howell-Richardson, C., & Mellar, H. (1996). A methodology for the analysis of patterns of participation within computer mediated communication courses. Instructional Science. 24(1), 47-69.
  19. Keirsey, D. W. (1998). Please understand me II: Temperament, character, intelligence. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.
  20. Koschmann, T. (1996). Paradigm shifts and instructional technology: An introduction. In T Koschman (Ed.), CSCL: Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm, 1-24, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  21. Lattuca, L. R., & Stark, J. S. (1995). Modifying the major: Discretionary thoughts from ten disciplines. The Review of Higher Education, 18(3), 315-344.
  22. Lundgren, C. C (1977). Trainer style and member attitudes toward trainer and group in t-groups. Small Group Behavior, 8(1), 47-62.
  23. Magolda, M. B. M. (1992). Students’ epistemologies and academic experiences: Implications for pedagogy. The Review of Higher Education, 15(3), 265-87. McComb, M.
  24. McDonald, J., & Gibson, C. C. (1998). Interpersonal dynamics and group development in computer conferencing. The American Journal of Distance Education, 12(1), 7-25. Meyer, K. A.
  25. Michaelsen, L. K. (1983). Team learning in large classes. In C. Bouton and R. Y. Garth, (Eds.), Learning in Groups, (pp. 13-22). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  26. Morgan, A. R. (1987). Project work in open learning. In M. Thorpe and D. Grugeon (Eds.), Open learning for adults, (pp. 245-251). Harlow, London: Longman.
  27. National Research Council. (1996). From analysis to action: Undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  28. National Science Foundation (1996). Shaping the future: New expectations for undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Washington, DC: Report by the Advisory Committee to the National Science Foundation Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
  29. Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1972). Human problem solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, P. (1998). Studying college students in the 21st century: Meeting newchallenges. Review of Higher Education, 21, 151-165.
  30. Picciano, A. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1). Retrieved November 20, 2003 from Polya, G. (1957). How to solve it. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor.
  31. Rafaeli, S., & Sudweeks, F. (1997). Networked interactivity. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, 2(4). Retrieved July 18, 2002 from
  32. Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1). Retrieved November 20, 2003 from
  33. Slavin, R. E. (1995). Cooperative Learning (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Simon and Schuster. Smith, K. A. (1987). Educational engineering: Heuristics for improving learning effectiveness and efficiency. Engineering Education, 74, 274-279.
  34. Spear, K. (1989). Sources of strain in liberal education. The Review of Higher Education, 12(4), 389-401. Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), 21-51.
  35. Wertheimer, M. (1959). Productive thinking. New York: Harper and Row.
  36. Yang, H., & Tang, J. (2003). Effects of social network on students’ performance: A web-based forum study in Taiwan. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3). Retrieved November 20, 2003 from

These references have been extracted automatically and may have some errors. If you see a mistake in the references above, please contact

View References & Citations Map

Cited By

  1. Exploring Scaffolding Modes in PjBL: A Professional Development Course to Promote In-Service Teachers’ Technology Integration

    Ching-Huei Chen, National Changhua University of Education, Taiwan

    Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia Vol. 26, No. 2 (April 2017) pp. 105–129

  2. Delivery Method and Persistence and Performance

    Jennifer Thomas, Pace University, United States; Danielle Morin & Samie Ly, Concordia University, Canada

    EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2014 (Jun 23, 2014) pp. 1797–1801

  3. Asynchronous Communication: Review of Literature

    Trish Steinbrecher, University of Kansas, United States

    Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2008 (Mar 03, 2008) pp. 4341–4347

These links are based on references which have been extracted automatically and may have some errors. If you see a mistake, please contact