Cooperative Learning Explained

By Erika Hanson | Published

cooperative learning

In most schools, teachers implement various learning styles throughout their classes. A good mixture of auditory lessons, hands-on projects, self-study time, and visual studies are often implemented. But there is another learning style that has been around for quite a while, yet rarely gets any awareness. Cooperative learning is something nearly all adult-Americans have experienced at one point or another, but they might not know exactly what it is, or how it works.

What is Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning at its core is group work. It’s the process of breaking a classroom into smaller groups of students as a method of learning. In most instances, students in each group are tasked to work together to accomplish a shared goal.

cooperative learning

Cooperative learning was a relatively unknown learning concept until recent decades. Before the ‘60s the collaborative learning style was largely ignored. Most classrooms structured around a curriculum that involved a teacher standing and lecturing, and handing out individual work to students. 

B.F. Skinner was a major proponent in the push to implement cooperative learning techniques inside American classrooms. He was an American psychologist, behaviorist, and social philosopher. He also taught psychology at Harvard University from 1958 to 1874.

How Cooperative Learning is Structured

Educators can structure cooperative learning in various different ways. However, most teachers don’t advocate starting a class period diving right into group work. Students should first focus on the current subject before breaking into group work. Also, if students enter a class either first thing in the morning or right after spending the last period at lunch chatting with friends, they are less likely to engage in the group work project.

Cooperative learning can be implemented in a plethora of different ways. Buzz work is one popular method. This approach places students in small groups for short informal discussions regarding a start-up question asked by the teacher. 

cooperative learning

Think-pair-share is another cooperative learning method that asks students to first think individually about something. Next, they pair up to discuss and compare ideas. Lastly, they are given the opportunity to share their discussions with the rest of the class.

Circle of voices is another popular cooperative learning style. In this strategy, students form groups of four to five people given a topic to discuss. After that, each student in the group is given three minutes of uninterrupted time to share their thoughts. Once each group has had a chance to let everyone speak, the teacher opens the discussions up to the entire class. 

Cooperative learning doesn’t always have to be structured around discussions. It often is used to assign group hands-on projects, especially in science classes. It also can be as simple as taking a worksheet and grouping students to work through it together.

The Pros

The core elements of cooperative learning show the positive effects of interdependence. It can act as a huge life skill for students needing to prepare for the workforce. Group work can help students develop soft skills, or key abilities like social skills, empathy, patience, public speaking, time management, and critical thinking. 

Cooperative learning can also be very effective for certain students. Not everyone learns best in the same aspect. Some people find it hard to comprehend a long-drawn-out lecture from teachers. Group work and interdependency often see students excel. And as a bonus, students get to be social as they work together in groups. 

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The Cons

Cooperative learning doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone. For instance, what happens when most adults are asked to participate in a group bonding exercise in work training? Typically, that sentiment is met with groans in opposition to group work. This signifies one strong negative aspect of cooperative learning. Some students are innately more social than others. Children struggling with social-emotional issues often feel more stress when put in groups with other students. 

cooperative learning

Another possible large issue with cooperative learning is it can lead to more classroom distractions. When left to group work, students have more opportunities to get off subject and simply socialize. Additionally, this learning method can lead to a large amount of the workload going to one student. Teachers need to be diligent in checking in on each group to make sure everyone is participating. 

Cooperative learning can be a great tool inside the classroom when used properly. However, a good mixture of learning styles is recommended to fit everyone’s differing needs inside the classroom. For those looking to dive deeper into the subject, or just simply look at some sample lessons, Teach Hub has some great resources to get started.