What Is the Collaborative Model?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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The collaborative model is a psycholinguistics model first presented by Deana Wilkes-Gibbs and Herb Clark in the late 1980s. According to the model, parties engaged in a conversation must collaborate in order for the conversation to have jointly understood meaning to all those involved. Clark and Wilkes-Gibbs proposed the model to include the required processes of understanding known as presentation and acceptance. In other words, according to the collaborative model, a speaker must present conversational words while the listener accepts a mutually understood meaning for those words. Articulating specific acceptance is not required, but rather expressed through continued conversation based on mutual understandings.

For example, June and Janice have a conversation about dogs. June's use of the word "dogs," as presented through context and other clues, is intended to mean both pet and wild dog species. Under the collaborative model, both Janice and June have to understand what June means by "dogs" in order for the conversation to have the same or similar meaning to both women. Through the course of the conversation, Janice must express some verbal or nonverbal understanding of what the term "dog" means in the context of the conversation. Without Janice's collaboration, June has no means by which to judge if her presented articulations are clearly understood by Janice or if she must modify her presentation to facilitate Janice's understanding.


Prior to the introduction of the collaborative model and similar suggestions regarding conversation collaboration, psycholinguistics held to understandings based on the literary model. A literary model likens conversations to book authors and readers, with speakers retaining complete control over how chosen words are interpreted by the audience through context clues. Wilkes-Gibbs and Clark, as well as other psycholinguistics of the 1970s and 1980s, presented the concept that instead of the speaker determining meaning, conversations were collaborative in that listeners determined their own meaning based on personal experience and context clues. Speakers therefore, under the collaborative model, must adjust word choices to compensate for different understandings as the conversation progresses.

Studies conducted during the late 1980s lend credibility to the theories behind the collaborative model. Adhering to the literary model, a person overhearing a conversation should understand a speaker as well as those in direct conversation with said speaker. Results of informal small group testing in the late 1980s and early 1990s illustrated differently. Instead of understanding conversations, many participants experienced difficulty following along with conversations in which the individual did not directly participate, even when the overhearing listener heard every word of the conversation. As such, the results suggest that a collaboration between speaker and listener, even on a small scale, is required for meaningful understanding of any conversation.

Since the introduction of the collaborative conversational model, similar models have been presented to cover learning, research, human interest projects, and other arenas. Models and theories such as the collaborative learning model, collaborative teaching model, collaborative practice model, and collaborative leadership model cover everything from instruction to business processes. Each model illustrates the need or expectation of collaboration in a variety of environments. Teachers, for example, need to collaborate with students, therapists, and other educational professionals to achieve educational goals. Business leaders require collaborative relationships to be most effective in regard to meeting business goals.


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