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Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is an approach to organizing classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. Students must work in groups to complete tasks collectively. Unlike individual learning, students learning cooperatively capitalize on one another’s resources and skills (asking one another for information, evaluating one another’s ideas, monitoring one another’s work, etc.). Furthermore, the teacher's role changes from giving information to facilitating students' learning. Everyone succeeds when the group succeeds.


Prior to World War II, social theorists such as Allport, Watson, Shaw, and Mead began establishing cooperative learning theory after finding that group work was more effective and efficient in quantity, quality, and overall productivity when compared to working alone. However, it wasn’t until 1937 when researchers May and Doob found that people who cooperate and work together to achieve shared goals, were more successful in attaining outcomes, than those who strived independently to complete the same goals. Furthermore, they found that independent achievers had a greater likelihood of displaying competitive behaviours. Philosophers and psychologists in the 1930s and 40’s such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Morton Deutsh also influenced the cooperative learning theory practiced today. Dewey believed it was important that students develop knowledge and social skills that could be used outside of the classroom, and in the democratic society. This theory portrayed students as active recipients of knowledgeby discussing information and answers in groups, engaging in the learning process together rather than being passive receivers of information (e.g. teacher talking, students listening). Lewin’s contributions to cooperative learning were based on the ideas of establishing relationships between group members in order to successfully carry out and achieve the learning goal. Deutsh’s contribution to cooperative learning was positive social interdependence, the idea that the student is responsible for contributing to group knowledge. Since then, David and Roger Johnson have been actively contributing to the cooperative learning theory. In 1975, they identified that cooperative learning promoted mutual liking, better communication, high acceptance and support, as well as demonstrated an increase in a variety of thinking strategies among individuals in the group. Students who showed to be more competitive lacked in their interaction and trust with others, as well as in their emotional involvement with other students. In 1994 Johnson and Johnson published the 5 elements (positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, social skills, and processing) essential for effective group learning, achievement, and higher-order social, personal and cognitive skills (e.g., problem solving, reasoning, decision-making, planning, organizing, and reflecting).

Formal cooperative learning is structured, facilitated, and monitoredby the educator over time and is used to achieve group goals in task work (e.g. completing a unit). Any course material or assignment can be adapted to this type of learning, and groups can vary from 2-6 people with discussions lasting from a few minutes up to a period. Types of formal cooperative learning strategies include jigsaw, assignments that involve group problem solving and decision making, laboratory or experiment assignments, and peer review work (e.g. editing writing assignments). Having experience and developing skill with this type of learning often facilitates informal and base learning.

Informal cooperative learning incorporates group learning with passive teachingby drawing attention to material through small groups throughout the lesson orby discussion at the end of a lesson, and typically involves groups of two (e.g. turn-to-your-partner discussions). These groups are often temporary and can change from lesson to lesson (very much unlike formal learning where 2 students may be lab partners throughout the entire semester contributing to one another’s knowledge of science). Discussions typically have four components that include formulating a response to questions askedby the educator, sharing responses to the questions asked with a partner, listening to a partner’s responses to the same question, and creating a new well-developed answer. This type of learning enables the student to process, consolidate, and retain more information learned.

In group-based cooperative learning, these peer groups gather together over the long term (e.g. over the course of a year, or several years such as in high school or post-secondary studies) to develop and contribute to one another’s knowledge mastery on a topicby regularly discussing material, encouraging one another, and supporting the academic and personal success of group members. Base group learning is effective for learning complex subject matter over the course or semester and establishes caring, supportive peer relationships, which in turn motivates and strengthens the student’s commitment to the group’s education while increasing self-esteem and self worth. Base group approaches also make the students accountable to educating their peer group in the event that a member was absent for a lesson. This is effective both for individual learning, as well as social support.


Brown & Ciuffetelli Parker (2009) discuss the 5 basic and essential elements to cooperative learning:

Positive interdependence
•Students must fully participate and put forth effort within their group
•Each group member has a task/role/responsibility therefore must believe that they are responsible for their learning and that of their group
2. Face-to-Face Promotive Interaction

•Member promote each others success
•Students explain to one another what they have or are learning and assist one another with understanding and completion of assignments
3. Individual Accountability

•Each student must demonstrate master of the content being studied
•Each student is accountable for their learning and work, therefore eliminating “
social loafing
4. Social Skills

•Social skills that must be taught in order for successful cooperative learning to occur
•Skills include effective communication, interpersonal and group skills
i. Leadership
ii. Decision-making
iii. Trust-building
iv. Communication
v. Conflict-management skills
5. Group Processing

•Every so often groups must assess their effectiveness and decide how it can be improved
In order for student achievement to improve considerably, two characteristics must be present a) Students are working towards a group goal or recognition and b) success is reliant on each individual’s learning

a. When designing cooperative learning tasks and reward structures, individual responsibility and accountability must be identified. Individuals must know exactly what their responsibilities are and that they are accountable to the group in order to reach their goal.
b. Positive Interdependence among students in the task. All group members must be involved in order for the group to complete the task. In order for this to occur each member must have a task that they are responsible for which cannot be completedby any other group member.

Research supporting cooperative learning

Research on cooperative learning demonstrated “overwhelmingly positive” results and confirmed that cooperative modes are cross-curricular. Cooperative learning requires students to engage in group activities that increase learning and adds other important dimensions. The positive outcomes include: academic gains, improved race relations and increased personal and social development. Brady & Tsay (2010) report that students who fully participated in group activities, exhibited collaborative behaviours, provided constructive feedback and cooperated with their group had a higher likelihood of receiving higher test scores and course grades at the end of the semester. Results from Brady & Tsay’s (2010) study support the notion that cooperative learning is an active pedagogy that fosters higher academic achievement (p. 85).

Slavin states the following regarding research on cooperative learning which corresponds with Brady & Tsay’s (2010) findings.

•Students demonstrate academic achievement
•Cooperative learning methods are usually equally effective for all ability levels.
•Cooperative learning is affective for all ethnic groups
•Student perceptions of one another are enhanced when given the opportunity to work with one another
•Cooperative learning increases self esteem and self concept
•Ethnic and physically/mentally handicapped barriers are broken down allowing for positive interactions and friendships to occur


Cooperative Learning has many limitations that could cause the process to be more complicated then first perceived. Sharan (2010) discusses the issue regarding the constant evolution of cooperative learning is discussed as a threat. Due to the fact that cooperative learning is constantly changing, there is the possibility that teachers may become confused and lack complete understanding of the method. Teachers implementing cooperative learning may also be challenged with resistance and hostility from students who believe that they are being held backby their slower teammates orby students who are less confident and feel that they are being ignored or demeanedby their team.

See also

  • Collaborative learning
  • Thesis circle


  • Ming Ming Chiu
  • Elizabeth Cohen
  • David Johnson
  • Roger Johnson
  • Angela O'Donnell
  • Robert Slavin

    1. ^ Chiu, M. M. (2000). Group problem solving processes: Social interactions and individual actions. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 30, 1, 27-50.600-631.
    2. ^ Chiu, M. M. (2008).Flowing toward correct contributions during groups' mathematics problem solving: A statistical discourse analysis. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17 (3), 415 - 463.
    3. ^ Chiu, M. M. (2004). Adapting teacher interventions to student needs during cooperative learning. American Educational Research Journal, 41, 365-399.
    4. ^ Cohen, E. G. (1994). Designing group work. New York: Teacher's College.
    5. ^ Gilles, R.M., & Adrian, F. (2003). Cooperative Learning: The social and intellectual Outcomes of Learning in Groups. London: Farmer Press.
    6. ^ May, M. and Doob, L. (1937). Cooperation and Competition. New York: Social Sciences Research Council
    7. ^ a b c Sharan, Y. (2010). Cooperative Learning for Academic and Social Gains: valued pedagogy, problematic practice. European Journal of Education, 45,(2), 300-313.
    8. ^ Johnson, D., Johnson, R. (1975). Learning together and alone, cooperation, competition, and individualization. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
    9. ^ Johnson, D., Johnson, R. (1994). Learning together and alone, cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning. Needham Heights, MA: Prentice-Hall.
    10. ^ a b Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. (1988). Advanced Cooperative Learning. Edin, MN: Interaction Book Company.
    11. ^ a b c Brown, H., & Ciuffetelli, D.C. (Eds.). (2009). Foundational methods: Understanding teaching and learning. Toronto: Pearson Education.
    12. ^ a b Brown, H., & Ciuffetelli, D.C. (Eds.). (2009). Foundational methods: Understanding teaching and learning, p. 507. Toronto: Pearson Education.
    13. ^ Brown, H., & Ciuffetelli, D.C. (Eds.). (2009). Foundational methods: Understanding teaching and learning, p. 508. Toronto: Pearson Education.

    Further reading

    •Aldrich, H., & Shimazoe,J. (2010). Group work can be gratifying: Understanding and overcoming resistance to cooperative learning. College Teaching, 58(2), 52-57.
    •Baker,T., & Clark, J. (2010). Cooperative learning- a double edged sword: A cooperative learning model for use with diverse student groups. Intercultural Education, 21(3), 257-268.
    •Kose, S., Sahin, A., Ergu, A., & Gezer, K. (2010). The effects of cooperative learning experience on eight grade students’ achievement and attitude toward science. Education, 131 (1), 169-180.
    •Lynch, D. (2010). Application of online discussion and cooperative learning strategies to online and blended college courses. College Student Journal, 44(3), 777-784.
    •Naested, I., Potvin, B., & Waldron, P. (2004). Understanding the landscape of teaching. Toronto: Pearson Education.
    •Scheurell, S. (2010). Virtual warrenshburg: Using cooperative learning and the internet in the social studies classroom. Social Studies, 101(5), 194-199.
    •Tsay, M., & Brady, M. (2010). A case study of cooperative learning and communication pedagogy: Does working in teams make a difference? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 78 – 89.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Cooperative Learning

    Cooperative learningis a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work through the assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it.

    Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members:

    • gain from each other's efforts. (Your success benefits me and my success benefits you.)
    • recognize that all group members share a common fate. (We all sink or swim together here.)
    • know that one's performance is mutually caused by oneself and one's team members. (We can not do it without you.)
    • feel proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is recognized for achievement. (We all congratulate you on your accomplishment!).

      Why use Cooperative Learning?

      Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques:

      • promote student learning and academic achievement
      • increase student retention
      • enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience
      • help students develop skills in oral communication
      • develop students' social skills
      • promote student self-esteem
      • help to promote positive race relations

        5 Elements of Cooperative Learning

        It is only under certain conditions that cooperative efforts may be expected to be more productive than competitive and individualistic efforts. Those conditions are:

        1. Positive Interdependence
        (sink or swim together)
        • Each group member's efforts are required and indispensable for group success
        • Each group member has a unique contribution to make to the joint effort because of his or her resources and/or role and task responsibilities
        2. Face-to-Face Interaction
        (promote each other's success)
        • Orally explaining how to solve problems
        • Teaching one's knowledge to other
        • Checking for understanding
        • Discussing concepts being learned
        • Connecting present with past learning
        3. Individual
        Group Accountability

        ( no hitchhiking! no social loafing)
        • Keeping the size of the group small. The smaller the size of the group, the greater the individual accountability may be.
        • Giving an individual test to each student.
        • Randomly examining students orally by calling on one student to present his or her group's work to the teacher (in the presence of the group) or to the entire class.
        • Observing each group and recording the frequency with which each member-contributes to the group's work.
        • Assigning one student in each group the role of checker. The checker asks other group members to explain the reasoning and rationale underlying group answers.
        • Having students teach what they learned to someone else.
        4. Interpersonal &
        Small-Group Skills
        • Social skills must be taught:
          • Leadership
          • Decision-making
          • Trust-building
          • Communication
          • Conflict-management skills
                  5. Group Processing
                  • Group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships
                  • Describe what member actions are helpful and not helpful
                  • Make decisions about what behaviors to continue or change

                  Class Activities that use Cooperative Learning

                  Most of these structures are developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan and his associates at Kagan Publishing and Professional Development. For resources and professional development information on Kagan Structures, please visit:


                  1. Jigsaw- Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To help in the learning students across the class working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice in these "expert" groups the original groups reform and students teach each other. (Wood, p. 17) Tests or assessment follows.
                  2. Think-Pair-Share- Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire group.
                  3. Three-Step Interview (Kagan) - Each member of a team chooses another member to be a partner. During the first step individuals interview their partners by asking clarifying questions. During the second step partners reverse the roles. For the final step, members share their partner's response with the team.
                  4. RoundRobin Brainstorming (Kagan)- Class is divided into small groups (4 to 6) with one person appointed as the recorder. A question is posed with many answers and students are given time to think about answers. After the "think time," members of the team share responses with one another round robin style. The recorder writes down the answers of the group members. The person next to the recorder starts and each person in the group in order gives an answer until time is called.
                  5. Three-minute review - Teachers stop any time during a lecture or discussion and give teams three minutes to review what has been said, ask clarifying questions or answer questions.
                  6. Numbered Heads Together(Kagan) - A team of four is established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give the answer.
                  7. Team Pair Solo(Kagan)- Students do problems first as a team, then with a partner, and finally on their own. It is designed to motivate students to tackle and succeed at problems which initially are beyond their ability. It is based on a simple notion of mediated learning. Students can do more things with help (mediation) than they can do alone. By allowing them to work on problems they could not do alone, first as a team and then with a partner, they progress to a point they can do alone that which at first they could do only with help.
                  8. Circle the Sage(Kagan)- First the teacher polls the class to see which students have a special knowledge to share. For example the teacher may ask who in the class was able to solve a difficult math homework question, who had visited Mexico, who knows the chemical reactions involved in how salting the streets help dissipate snow. Those students (the sages) stand and spread out in the room. The teacher then has the rest of the classmates each surround a sage, with no two members of the same team going to the same sage. The sage explains what they know while the classmates listen, ask questions, and take notes. All students then return to their teams. Each in turn, explains what they learned. Because each one has gone to a different sage, they compare notes. If there is disagreement, they stand up as a team. Finally, the disagreements are aired and resolved.
                  9. Partners(Kagan) - The class is divided into teams of four. Partners move to one side of the room. Half of each team is given an assignment to master to be able to teach the other half. Partners work to learn and can consult with other partners working on the same material. Teams go back together with each set of partners teaching the other set. Partners quiz and tutor teammates. Team reviews how well they learned and taught and how they might improve the process.


                  David and Roger Johnson. "Cooperative Learning." [Online] 15 October 2001. <http://www.clcrc.com/pages/cl.html>.

                  David and Roger Johnson. "An Overview of Cooperative Learning." [Online] 15 October 2001. <http://www.clcrc.com/pages/overviewpaper.html>.

                  Howard Community College's Teaching Resources. "Ideas on Cooperative Learning and the use of Small Groups." [Online] 15 October 2001. <http://www.howardcc.edu/profdev/resources/learning/groups1.htm>.

                  Kagan, S. Kagan Structures for Emotional Intelligence. Kagan Online Magazine. 2001, 4(4).


                  Kagan, Spencer. Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 1994.


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