#Take5 #57 Using the jigsaw technique for collaborative online learning




Playful and Creative Learning, Study Skills, Technology Enhanced Learning

Puzzling the pieces

This #Take5 is brought to you from Katharine Stapleford who has solved this year’s Covid-19 problem – how to get students working (and reading) collaboratively when studying online and at a distance. Here’s Katharine:


I teach on the MA Digital Education programme at Leeds University. The programme is 100% online distance learning and recruits students from all over the world. The programme adopts a flipped learning* design, whereby each weekly unit centres around an interactive student-led synchronous seminar with some asynchronous pre- and post-seminar tasks.

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Why the jigsaw technique?

The underlying principle of the jigsaw technique, is that it’s an ‘information gap’ activity; in other words whilst each student becomes an ‘expert’ in their field, each only has a piece of information – they don’t see the whole picture until they work together to combine their individual pieces. So it’s very much based on an active and dialogic theory of learning. For this reason, it’s used a lot in language teaching, and that’s the context I first encountered it.

Active learning

I used it in week 7 of a 12-week module, by which point, the students were familiar with the format and the environment. The topic was conversational and dialogic learning with reference to social media. I felt that this topic lent itself to a more active learning strategy and I wanted the students to learn about this theory by experiencing it, rather than by passively reading or viewing a recorded lecture (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Introducing the task in week 7

Time for a change

I wanted to shake things up a bit, the flipped learning model works well, but I felt it was becoming a bit samey and formulaic and I wanted to liven it up.


Students on the programme have varying levels of prior knowledge; some are trained and experienced teachers while others and have no pedagogic training at all. I felt that this task would allow students to work at their own pace and from their own starting point.

A reason to contribute

The students are split between those who are used to taking an active role in their learning and embrace the social and dialogic learning model, while others are less confident with this approach and take more passive role. I wanted to address this by ensuring that all students had something meaningful to contribute.

Flipping the jigsaw

Normally, a jigsaw activity would happen within the course of one teaching session, whereas I adapted it for the distance context so, it spanned the ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ elements of the flipped model (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The flipped jigsaw procedure

The procedure


The students are in small groups of 8 – 9 students for asynchronous interactive tasks, and have been since the start of the module. I wanted students to become familiar with 4 theories, so within each group, I allocated 2 – 3 students to each theory (Figure 3). The students then researched their allocated theory, either individually or working collaboratively with their partners, and then contributed their findings to a group Wiki that I had set up in advance (Figure 4). At this point, each student is an ‘expert’ on at least one theory.

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Figure 3: The wiki with instructions

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Figure 4: An example completed wiki page


During the seminar, students are divided into breakout groups so that each group had at least one ‘expert’ on each theory. They share their expertise. Students then discuss the relevance of the theories to their own practice.


The follow-up entails some tutor feedback on the wikis, some tutor-produced content to fill in any gaps and an asynchronous interactive task (e.g. using Tricider, students select their preferred theory and justify their choice).

Some academic underpinning

Clearly, the jigsaw technique aligns to a social constructivist pedagogy and as such complements the flipped model, which has at its core, the principles of active and social learning (Brewer & Movahedazarhouligh, 2016; Flipped Learning Network, 2014). The technique also aligns to the four elements of the ARCS model of instructional design: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction (Keller, 1984).

A few caveats

Firstly, these students are enrolled on a digital education masters, so I could assume a level of interest and competence in using the technology. 

Secondly, the grouping can be a challenge. For example, we offer the seminar at two different times to cater for different time zones and professional commitments so I’m never quite sure who is going to turn up at which seminar. It was a case of waiting and hoping that there’d be enough ‘experts’ for each theory. 

Finally, the quality of contributions varied quite a bit so there is some need for tutor produced content as a follow-up generally to fill in any gaps and also to cater for students who do feel they need that tutor input.

Find out more

Brewer, R. and Movahedazarhouligh, S. (2018). Successful stories and conflicts: A literature review on the effectiveness of flipped learning in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 34(4), pp.409-416.

British Council. (n.d.). Jigsaw. [Online article]. Available from https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw

Cult of Pedagogy. (2015). The Jigsaw Method. [Online video]. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euhtXUgBEts

Keller, J. M. (1983). Use of the ARCS Model of Motivation in Teacher Training. IDD&E Working Paper No. 10. Available from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED288520

Pozzi, F. (2010). Using Jigsaw and Case Study for supporting online collaborative learning. Computers & Education, 55(1), 67–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.12.003


I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Leeds, where I lead the MA Digital Education. My background is in English language teaching and teacher education. I am currently a PhD student at Lancaster University where I have recently submitted my thesis on the lived experiences of online distance learners.  


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