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7.1: Definition and Background

  • Page ID
    87501
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    Authors: Guinevere Palmer, Rachel Peters, and Rebecca Streetman (The University of Georgia)

    Cooperative Learning
    Figure 7.17.1: Cooperative Learning is a teaching methodology.

    Think about the way you prefer to learn. Do you like to bounce ideas off other people and engage in conversation and debate, or do you prefer to learn by yourself and seek help only when needed?

    Our students need to be engaged in learning in a variety of ways, but collaborative learning has been identified as a necessary skill for success in the 21st century and also an essential component of deep learning.

    Cooperative learning involves students working together to accomplish shared goals, and it is this sense of interdependence that motivate group members to help and support each other.

    When students work cooperatively they learn to listen to what others have to say, give and receive help, reconcile differences, and resolve problems democratically.

    However, placing students in small groups and telling them to work together does not guarantee that they will work cooperatively. Groups need to be structured to ensure that members will work interdependently if they are to reap the academic and social benefits widely attributed to this approach to learning.

    The role the teacher plays in establishing cooperative learning in the classroom is critically important for its success. This involves being aware of how to structure cooperative learning in groups, including their size and composition the type of task set; expectations for student behavior; individual and group responsibilities; and the teacher’s role in monitoring both the process and the outcomes of the group experience.

    (Robyn Gillies, UQx: LEARNx Deep Learning through Transformative Pedagogy (2017). University of Queensland, Australia.

    Definition and Background 

    • Cooperative learning is defined as students working together to “attain group goals that cannot be obtained by working alone or competitively” (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1986).
    • The main purpose of cooperative learning is to actively involve students in the learning process; a level of student empowerment which is not possible in a lecture format. The underlying premise is founded in constructivist epistemology.
    • It is a process which requires knowledge to be discovered by students and transformed into concepts to which the students can relate. The knowledge is then reconstructed and expanded through new learning experiences.
    • Learning takes place through dialog among students in a social setting.

    Cooperative learning is a methodology that employs a variety of learning activities to improve students’ understanding of a subject by using a structured approach which involves a series of steps, requiring students to create, analyze and apply concepts (Kagan, 1990). Cooperative learning utilizes ideas of Vygotsky, Piaget, and Kohlberg in that both the individual and the social setting are active dynamics in the learning process as students attempt to imitate real-life learning.

    By combining teamwork and individual accountability, students work toward acquiring both knowledge and social skills. It is a teaching strategy which allows students to work together in small groups with individuals of various talents, abilities and backgrounds to accomplish a common goal. Each individual team member is responsible for learning the material and also for helping the other members of the team learn.

    Students work until each group member successfully understands and completes the assignment, thus creating an “atmosphere of achievement” (Panitz, 1996). As a result, they frame new concepts by basing their conclusions on prior knowledge. This process results in a deeper understanding of the material and more potential to retain the material.


    7.1: Definition and Background is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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