Cooperative and Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

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  • 0:06 Copperative Learning
  • 1:38 Jigsaw
  • 3:28 Elements of…
  • 5:06 Additional Examples
  • 6:48 Collaborative Learning
  • 8:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell

Erin has an M.Ed in adult education and a BS in psychology and a BS in management systems.

It's extremely common for teachers to require students to work in groups. However, certain types of groups and activities are preferred over others. In this lesson, we define cooperative learning and discuss its advantages in the classroom. We also define collaborative learning and explain how it is different than cooperative learning.

Cooperative Learning

Working together in a group can be a great experience for some people and a terrible one for others. You've probably realized by now that working in a group is pretty common in education. However, every group is not created equal and some groups function better than others. That's part of the reason why many teachers promote cooperative learning, instead.

In cooperative learning, students work together in small groups to complete a structured task or goal. It is more than just working in a group, as group work alone does not guarantee cooperative learning. As you may have experienced, when students are simply required to work together, they are usually rewarded based on the success of the entire group. It is all too often the case that only some members of the group do all of the work. It cannot be said that all of the members are actually learning. On the other hand, in cooperative learning, members of the group are not only rewarded based on the success of the entire group but are also individually accountable for their own work. The task or activity is structured in a way that requires the input and participation of every group member. As a result, all of the group members learn from each other. Cooperative learning is often confused with collaborative learning, but they are not the same thing. We'll discuss collaborative learning later in this lesson.


An example of a very popular cooperative learning activity that teachers use is jigsaw, where each student is required to research one section of the material and then teach it to the other members of the group. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece or section is put together at the end, and only then does the entire picture make sense.

For example, imagine you've been placed in a group that has been tasked with researching the life of Dr. Seuss. In jigsaw, you and the members of your group would each be responsible for researching certain periods of his life. Let's say there are four members of your group. You are responsible for researching his childhood, and the other members of your group are responsible for other periods of his life. When you are finished with your individual research, you report what you've learned to the other members of your group. Once everyone is finished with their reports, you have a complete picture of his entire life.

In this way, jigsaw activities are specifically structured so that the only access any member has to all of the information is through the work of other members. So, if you don't listen to someone in your group, you won't know the information and won't do well on the test that follows.

As a cooperative learning activity, jigsaw provides a very efficient way for students to learn. Cooperative learning also has a number of other advantages. For example, as they work together, students learn how to socialize, solve problems, and handle conflict. Additionally, learning to cooperate with others is vital for success later in life. Almost every company that a student will work for is likely to require them to work in a group at some point.

Elements of Cooperative Learning

As we discussed before, simply working in a group does not guarantee cooperative learning. There are five elements that define true cooperative learning in groups:

  1. Face-to-face interaction
  2. Positive interdependence
  3. Individual accountability
  4. Collaborative skills
  5. Group processing

Face-to-face interaction is a bit counter-intuitive because it doesn't necessarily mean face-to-face as in 'in-person'. It actually just refers to direct interaction. So, it can be literally face-to-face, or it could be over the phone, on chat, via Skype, through email, etc. It's just referring to the fact that group members have to actually interact in order to cooperate.

The second element is positive interdependence, which means that the group members rely on each other and can only succeed together. This goes hand-in-hand with the third element, which is individual accountability. As an interdependent group, each individual is responsible for his or her own work and can be held accountable for that work.

The fourth element of cooperative learning is collaborative skills. The group members must be able to work together, but the ability to do so doesn't always come naturally; sometimes these skills need to be taught. And the final element is group processing, which refers to the fact that the group needs to monitor itself to ensure that the group, as a whole, is working together effectively.

Additional Examples

We already discussed jigsaw as an example of a cooperative learning activity, but it is not the only one. You'll want to be familiar with at least two others: jigsaw II and reciprocal teaching.

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