Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is a relative newcomer to the field of international education.  COIL is not a technology platform or set of virtual tools, rather it is an educational methodology that combines technology and classroom learning across geographic boundaries.  Where it benefits international educators and those interested in internationalizing the curriculum is in its design.  A COIL course is a lesson in both the academic content and intercultural communication/collaboration.

What is a COIL course?

There are many ways to conduct a COIL course.  In general, it involves connecting two or more classes of similar content offered at two universities in two different countries.  The instructors design one or more course modules in a way that connects the two different student populations.  Often, the two groups of students have to work together to discuss course materials, solve a problem of practice, or produce another type of grade-able product.  Collaboration may occur synchronously (in real time) or asynchronous (not in real time) and students may connect via email, voice, video, or  in some combination.

Why is COIL important to International Educators?

Try as we might, a study abroad experience is not always a reality for every single one of our students due to cost, academic inflexibility, or other barriers.  Perhaps the greatest affordance of a virtual classroom is the ability to transcend geographic boundaries in an efficient, cost-effective way.  A COIL course allows students to collaborate beyond the constraints of time and space, as well as interact with individuals from other cultures while still on campus.  Course discussion can be enriched by the diversity in opinions, experiences, and cultures of the individuals, which brings deeper insight and awareness to intercultural issues.  COIL classes are one of the many ways universities can internationalize curricula.

Not only is COIL a valuable instructional design methodology, it is a valuable tool for our daily practice.  Consider the ways in which you could harness COIL for student orientations, language learning, and faculty development.

Why isn’t there much information available when I Google COIL?

COIL isn’t always called COIL.  In fact, COIL has its roots in several fields beyond international education.  Try searching some of the following terms and keywords:

Interested in learning more?

The SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is one of the leading international organizations focused on the emerging field of Globally Networked Learning.  Its website provides a rich set of resources for educators interested in creating COIL opportunities for students.  The SUNY COIL center also hosts an annual conference.


Borderless via technology. West, C. (2010). International Educator, 19(2), 24-33.

New windows on the world. Connell, C. (2014). International Educator, 23(3), 26-38.

Teaching With Tech Across Borders. Redden, E. (2014). Inside Higher Ed


The following is a short list of COIL- specific and related research.  It is by no means a comprehensive list.

Bell, F., Keegan, H. & Zaitseva, E. (2008). Designing virtual student mobility. In E. O’Doherty (Ed.), The fourth education in a changing environment conference book 2007 (99-115). Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press.

Bosch, T. E. (2009). Using online social networking for teaching and learning: Facebook use at the University of Cape Town. Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, 35(2), 185-200.

Bryant, T. (2006). Social software in academia. Educause Quarterly, 29(2).

de Villiers, M. R. (2010). Academic use of a group on Facebook: Initial findings and perceptions. Proceedings from Informing Science & IT Education Conference (InSITE) 2010. 

Fung, Y. Y. H. (2004). Collaborative online learning: Interaction patterns and limiting factors. Open Learning. 19(2), 135-149.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. Chernobilsky, E., & Anandi, N. (2008).  Two sides of the coin: Multiple perspectives on collaborative problem solving in online problem-based learning. In Kumpulainem, K., Hmelo-Silver, C. E., & Cesar, M. (Eds.), Investigating classroom interaction: Methodologies in action (73-98). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Nagarajan, A., & Derry, S. (2006). From face-to-face to online participation: Tensions in facilitating problem-based learning. In M. Savin-Baden & K. Wilkie (Eds.), Problem-based learning (61-78). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Hmelo, C. E., Guzdial, M., & Turns, J. (1998). Computer-support for collaborative learning: Learning to support student engagement. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 9(2), 107-129.

Hurt, N. E., Moss, G. S., Bradley, C. L., Larson, L. R., Lovelace, M. D., & Prevost, L. B. (2012). The ‘Facebook’ effect: College students’ perceptions of online discussions in the age of social networking. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 1-20.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1996). Cooperation and the use of technology. Handbook of research for educational communications and technology: A project of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 1017-1044.

Kirschner, P., Strijbos, J., Kreijns, K., & Beers P. J. (2004). Designing electronic collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3). 47-66.

Lajoie, S. P., Garcia, B., Berdugo, G., Márquez, L., Espíndola, S., & Nakamura, C. (2006). The creation of virtual and face-to-face learning communities: An international collaboration experience. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 35(2), 163-180.

Laurillard, D. (2009). The pedagogical challenges to collaborative technologies. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4(1), 5-20.

Lou, K. & Bosley, G. (2008). Dynamics of cultural contexts: Meta-level intervention in the study abroad experience. In V. Savicki (Ed.), Developing intercultural competence and transformation: Theory, research and application in international education (pp. 276-296). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Muilenburg, L. Y. & Berge, Z. L. (2005). Student barriers to online learning: A factor analytic study. Distance Education, 26(1), 29-48.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Resta, P., & Laferrière, T. (2007). Technology in support of collaborative learning. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 65-83.

Rovai, A. P. (2000). Building and sustaining community in asynchronous learning networks, Internet and Higher Education, 3, 285–297.

Ryan, S., & Sharp, J. (2011). Exploring educational and cultural adaptation through social networking sites. Journal of Information Technology Education, 10, 1-16.

Seale, J. K., & Cann, A. J. (2000). Reflection on-line or off-line: The role of learning technologies in encouraging students to reflect. Computers & Education, 34(3), 309-320.

Stahl, G. (2006). Group cognition: Computer support for building collaborative knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Suthers, D. D. (2006). Technology affordances for intersubjective meaning making: A research agenda for CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1(3), 315-337.

Tenenbaum, G., Naidu, S., Jegede, O., & Austin, J. (2001). Constructivist pedagogy in conventional on-campus and distance learning practice: An exploratory investigation. Learning and Instruction, 11(2), 87-111.

Volet, S. & Wosnitza, M. (2004). Social affordances and students’ engagement in cross-national online learning: An exploratory study. Journal of Research in International Education, 3(1), 5-29. doi:http://10.1177/1475240904041460.

Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: A case study. Internet and Higher Education, 6, 77-90. doi:http://10.1016/S1096-7516(02)00164-1.

Wegerif, R., & Mansour, N. (2010). A dialogic approach to technology-enhanced education for the global knowledge society. In M. S. Khine & I. M. Saleh (Eds.), The new science of learning: Cognition, computers, and collaboration in education (325-339). New York: Springer.

Wojenski, C. (2014). Virtually there: Examining a Collaborative Online International Learning pre-departure study abroad intervention. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ.


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