Online group work: All the information & valuable tips for efficient online collaboration

Written by: Helene Ausserwöger, 27.06.2024

In the age of digitalisation, online group work has become a regular part of studying. It offers a lot of flexibility and makes it easier to collaborate, but it can also be a challenge. You may have already had positive or negative experiences with it, or you might be wondering how to make this aspect of your studies more pleasant and successful. Here, you will learn about the challenges and advantages of working together online, share some useful tools and strategies, and give tips on handling common issues to get the best out of your online group projects.

Preparation and execution of successful online group work

Online group projects are great for tasks that require intensive teamwork and the exchange of ideas. In small groups, interaction is encouraged, and thanks to the many available digital tools, you can work together effectively no matter where you are. Here are some tasks that work really well for online group projects:

  • Discussions about content: When you discuss lecture content with other students online and reflect on it, you can remember the information better. Online forums and video conferencing tools like Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams make it possible to exchange ideas in real-time, discuss problems, and find solutions together.
  • Brainstorming and idea development: There’s nothing better than a good brainstorming session to find creative solutions. Online platforms like Padlet make it easy to quickly gather and organise ideas. These digital whiteboards are perfect for working together to brainstorm and develop new approaches.
  • Group projects and presentations: Who doesn’t know this? A group presentation is coming up, and everyone needs to contribute their part. With cloud-based applications like Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive, multiple people can work on documents, presentations, or projects simultaneously and update them in real-time. This way, everything stays up to date.
  • Literature research and summaries: Research is essential in many fields of study. In a group, this task can be easily divided. Each member takes on a part of the research and compiles the results in a shared document or uploads them to cloud-based file-sharing services like Google Drive.

With careful preparation and the right choice of tools, these tasks can be completed efficiently and successfully as part of online group work. With the right strategies, your next online group project is guaranteed to be a success!

Effective methods for forming online learning groups

There are various ways to form online study groups. Even though you might prefer working with friends, having more diverse groups can be beneficial as it often leads to more productive work. Here are some effective methods for forming online study groups:

Random Selection

Online study groups can be formed randomly in various ways. Here are some approaches:

  • Online Tools: There are numerous tools that can help form groups randomly. Random generators like Gruppen-Generator and Zufallsgenerator Gruppen can be used for this purpose, where you can input names and set the group size.
  • Breakout-Rooms on platforms like Zoom are also excellent for forming smaller subgroups within a larger group of for example students in a course,, and assigning tasks to each subgroup.
  • Coloured Pencil Method: Each participant chooses a coloured pencil and holds it up to the camera. Those with the same colour form a group.
  • Raise Your Hand Method: Different words are called out (like “sun,” “moon,” “stars”), and you raise your hand for any word you like. Those who raise their hands for the same word form a group. This method is playful and random, making group forming quick and entertaining when group size isn’t important.
  • Counting Off Method: This method makes sure groups are evenly sized and is super simple. Everyone counts off in a sequence (like 1 to 4), and people with the same number form a group. It’s great for evenly distributing participants.


It can often be useful to let the group members decide for themselves how they want to team up.

  • Based on Interests: Many video conferencing tools have built-in polling features that allow listing topics or projects and letting participants choose their preferences. Another option is to list topics and projects in a cloud-based collaborative document, define the groups and group sizes, and let participants sign up independently.
  • Based on Skills & Expertise: If specific skills are required for the work, such as programming experience or other specialised knowledge, survey tools or pre-surveys can be helpful. On video platforms like or, online rooms can be divided according to expertise, and participants can meet and interact there virtually.

Learning organisation for virtual teams: Cooperative vs. collaborative group work

Online group work offers a great opportunity to tackle tasks together, whether you approach them cooperatively or collaboratively. Both methods have their own advantages, and it is worth finding the best method for your group.

Cooperative Group Work

Cooperative group work means that tasks are divided, and each group member takes on specific sub-tasks. Everyone works individually and brings their results back to the group in the end. This can be particularly efficient because everyone does what they do best.

Collaborative Group Work

In collaborative group work, all members work together on the same tasks and are in constant communication. This approach can be very creative and productive, as everyone can contribute their ideas, and the best solutions are found collectively. This way, all group members contribute equally to the process and learn from each other.

Regardless of whether you work cooperatively or collaboratively, it is important that no one feels over- or under-challenged. A balanced distribution of tasks and regular communication are the keys to success.

Tips for supervising online group work

Even when group work is meant to be independent, guidance from professors or a group leader is crucial for success. Here are some practical tips on how to effectively support your group:

Communication Through Various Channels

  • Email: For formal inquiries and detailed feedback.
  • Discussion and Question Forums: For example, on the university’s own Moodle – ideal for exchanging ideas and answering common questions.
  • Chat Programs: For example, Microsoft Teams is perfect for quick questions and immediate answers.

Video Consultations

Regular video meetings via Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams allow all group members to receive feedback simultaneously and address questions immediately. This way, students can continue working without having to wait long for answers.

Using these methods, you can make sure that the group work runs smoothly and that students receive the support they need.

Helpful online collaboration tools for virtual team success

To collect all ideas, files, and progress in an organised manner, at least a suitable platform is needed. Multiple platforms can be used for different purposes. Here is a collection of platforms and online tools that can support you and your team:

Free Tools for Online Group Work

There are many great free tools that ease collaboration in online group work. Here are some of the best:

Data Collection in the Cloud

  • Google Workspace: With Google Meet, Docs, Sheets, and Slides, you can work simultaneously on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google Drive also provides ample storage space for your shared files.
  • Dropbox (Free Version): Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage space for sharing and storing files. Perfect for easily sharing and storing documents and media.

Communication and Video Conference Platforms

  • Jitsi: Jitsi is a free, open-source video conferencing solution that requires no registration. Perfect for spontaneous meetings and group calls.
  • Skype: Skype offers free voice and video calls, as well as chat functions. Suitable for smaller groups and informal meetings.
  • BigBlueButton: BigBlueButton is specifically designed for use in educational institutions. It offers features such as video conferencing, whiteboards, breakout rooms, and polls.
  • Zoom (Free Version): With the free version of Zoom, you can hold video conferences with up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes. Ideal for virtual meetings and group discussions.
  • Microsoft Teams (Free Version): The free version of Microsoft Teams offers chat, video, and file-sharing functions. It allows efficient communication and collaboration.

Whiteboards and Organisation

  • MindMeister: With MindMeister, you can create online mind maps. Great for brainstorming and visually organising ideas.
  • Padlet: Padlet is a digital bulletin board where you can share and organise notes, links, images, and other content together.
  • Microsoft To Do: Microsoft To Do helps you create and manage personal and shared to-do lists. Ideal for keeping track of your tasks.

Paid Tools for Online Group Work

If you are willing to invest a bit, there are some paid tools that offer advanced features and make your projects even easier:

Advanced Communication and Video Conference Platforms

  • Slack: Slack is a communication platform where you can chat in channels, share files, and integrate other tools. Ideal for quick exchanges and collaboration.
  • Microsoft Teams (Premium Version): The premium version of Microsoft Teams offers extended features like longer meetings, more storage space, and additional integrations. Perfect for larger projects and bigger groups.
  • Zoom (Premium Version): The premium version of Zoom allows you to hold longer meetings and includes additional features like cloud recordings and advanced webinars.

Data Collection in the Cloud

  • Dropbox (Paid Version): The paid version of Dropbox offers extended storage options and additional features like Smart Sync, advanced sharing settings, and file recovery. Ideal for teams that need to share and store larger amounts of data.

Challenges and difficulties in online group work

Online group work comes with some challenges that can even cause the project to fail. Here are some of the most common problems and how you can address them:

  • Lack of Individual Recognition: When group members feel that their contributions are not individually recognised, motivation often decreases. Ensure that every contribution is visible and appreciated.
  • Free Riders: Sometimes there are members who are less active and contribute little to the group work. To prevent this, it is important to assign clear responsibilities and require regular updates.
  • Coordination Problems: Different work styles and approaches can make coordination difficult. Use central tools for collecting and organising ideas to combine all contributions effectively and maintain an overview.
  • Loss of Motivation: The lack of personal interaction can lead to a loss of motivation. Make sure to schedule regular virtual meetings to strengthen team spirit and keep everyone on the same page.

If you sometimes feel unmotivated yourself, here are some tips for more motivation in your studies.

7 valuable tips for successful online collaboration

Collaborating in online groups comes with many challenges but also offers advantages. To help your virtual teamwork go smoothly and achieve great results, here are seven practical tips for you:

1. Determine Structure

Especially for digital group works, a clear structure is essential. This does not only include dividing responsibilities and tasks but also presenting the vision and mission clearly. Only when each team member knows exactly what individual and collective challenges lie ahead can the project be successfully completed.

2. Define Responsibilities

At the beginning, as with any group work, a group leader should be chosen. But  this leader isn’t just doing everything themselves – they are more like the organiser. It is key to share responsibilities across the group and keep a record of who is doing what. This prevents unjustified blame later on.

Especially online, it is easy for people to duck out of responsibility or skip their part of the group work. To counteract this, distribute all tasks, including their deadlines right at the start. The group leader helps to distribute tasks fairly and keeps an eye on the schedule and execution of the assigned tasks.

3. Hold Regular Meetings

This tip is especially important if the group members don’t know each other personally. Regular meetings help everyone get along better and create a more relaxed working atmosphere. They also help bring clear structure to digital group work. When meetings become routine, it prevents participants from forgetting to attend. Plus, breaking work steps into weekly units makes planning more effective and boosts group productivity.

4. Set Realistic Deadlines

Deadlines are essential for successfully completing digital group work. Make sure to plan everything realistically, as unrealistic time frames can affect the group’s spirit. This might lead to rushed work and a drop in the quality of the project.

5. Maintain Respectful Interaction

Respect is crucial in any form of collaboration, including group work. Each group member has unique strengths and weaknesses that must be used or worked around. Do not expect every team member to be at the same knowledge level as yourself. This is especially important in universities where people with different experiences and prior knowledge come together. Empathy towards others is essential, especially when things do not go as planned. Respectful interaction is important not only in digital group work but in any situation where you’re interacting with others.

6. Share Guidelines

An effective way to support the start of your next group work is to share this article with all participants at the beginning. It gives a clear guide on what makes for productive and successful teamwork, so everyone can follow the best practices together.

7. Celebrate Milestones

A big part of successful group work is recognising and celebrating milestones. Giving praise and recognition releases dopamines and keeps the motivation high.  Did you receive a good grade or positive feedback on a presentation? Great! Celebrate this success (online) and be proud of your achievements. This feeling will motivate you to continue doing good work!

Conclusion: Simplifying the path to successful online group work

Online group work in your studies offers both opportunities and challenges. Thorough preparation, supportive guidance from instructors, and the selection of the right tools are crucial for success. From the right structure and clear responsibilities to respect and the right platforms, all these aspects must be considered to navigate potential obstacles successfully. If you manage to get all group members on the same page, nothing will stand in the way of a successful project!

Any questions?

We are happy to help!