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Although collaboration is considered a key 21st-century skill, oftentimes it is only assessed through the outcome measures of individual learners. In this paper, we draw upon collaborative cognitive load theory (CCLT) to explain the process of collaboration in learning from the point of view of the collective, rather than an individual learner. Using CCLT we suggest a new method of measuring the process of collaboration regardless of its outcome measures. Our approach — Collaborative Learning as a Process (CLaP) — uses social network analysis to evaluate the balance between interactivity gains and coordination costs of learner communities. Here, we demonstrate the approach using real-world data derived from the digital tracks of two online discussion communities. We argue that our conceptual approach can enable instructors and learners to unlock the black box of collaboration in learning. It has the potential to support the development of learner skills that go beyond cognition. We conclude the paper with the results of our investigation of the value of the approach to the online module instructor.
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