Cooperative learning: definition, techniques, and roles

Cooperative learning is a group work strategy that encourages students’ interest in learning. Students feel they are an integral and...
5 December 2022

Cooperative learning is a group work strategy that encourages students’ interest in learning. Students feel they are an integral and necessary part of achieving the objectives proposed by the teacher and assume a greater responsibility toward learning and towards others. 

However, for the process to be successful, it must be properly prepared, so you need to know exactly what it is, what techniques you can apply, and what roles can be adopted by both the teacher and the student. 

What is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is an educational learning strategy based on developing a practice in small groups focused on achieving a common goal. 

Compared to structures based on competitiveness and production of more traditional education, cooperative learning achieves high group performance, but also of each of its members. 

According to experts, better learning is achieved than with the individualized system because it improves:

  • Motivation.
  • Interaction among classmates. 
  • Information processing strategies. 
  • Communication. 
  • Interpersonal and cognitive skills. 

In addition, this method eliminates the negative Pygmalion effect, which states that the negative expectations of a teacher towards a student end up being fulfilled if the student is aware of them. 

Cooperative learning

Basic components of cooperative learning

Cooperative learning requires the following five essential components to be successful. 

Positive interdependence 

The teacher must propose a clear objective to the group and make it clear that the efforts of each member benefit themselves and the group. 

Individual and group responsibility 

Each person takes responsibility for doing their share of the work. This avoids what psychologists call social loafing, i.e.. It eliminates the possibility of some members taking advantage of the work of others. 

Group responsibility also makes it possible to evaluate each student’s performance separately to determine who needs to be helped or supported. Each member comes out of the practice stronger.  

Stimulative interaction 

This interaction strengthens the relationships among members. Each student promotes the success of the others, helping and congratulating each other, thus promoting social commitment. 

Teaching interpersonal and group practices. 

The teacher must provide students with the necessary tools to achieve social integration and encourage them to function as a team.  

Group evaluation 

Group members should analyze how teamwork is developing and how they can improve their effectiveness in achieving their objectives. 

What is cooperative learning

Basic techniques of cooperative learning

With the above guidelines understood, let’s look at some of the techniques you can put into practice. 

Jigsaw or Puzzle

Each team member is responsible for a part of the training material, becoming an expert. The team is divided into a core team – made up of all team members – and expert groups – made up of experts in the different parts of the objective. 

Each core team member must meet with counterpart experts from other teams and then return to their team to pass on what they have learned. 

Peer tutoring 

This method creates pairs of students in which one takes on the role of tutor, and the other takes on the role of the tutored student. 

The student-tutor learns by teaching, and the student-tutored consolidates their learning through personalized assistance.

Constructive Controversy 

Generally, it is developed in groups of 4 members who receive a complex topic. Organized in pairs, two must prepare a position in favor or two against. 

After their interventions, a constructive debate begins, allowing the exchange of perspectives and the integration of better reasoning.

Group Investigation 

The teacher proposes a complex objective on a topic through a problem, a challenge, or a question. 

Each team chooses subtopics or sub-objectives to achieve the goal -as if it were a scientific research team- and proposes a work plan with the teacher. 

Once their part of the task is completed, each team organizes a presentation to share their findings, which are evaluated by the rest of the teams and the teacher.

Basic techniques of cooperative learning

Reciprocal Teaching 

Each team member adopts a role to share the cognitive load of the task set to help them improve their understanding of a complex text or problem. 

Thus, one student may read a text, another summarize it, another ask questions, another answer them, another make a conclusion, etc. 

Numbered Heads Together 

It is usually done with groups of 4 students in which each member has a number from 1 to 4. The students must work as a team to solve a problem and ensure that all members understand it. 

Afterward, the teacher will call out a number, and the person with the number must explain how the team solved the problem. This procedure encourages mutual pedagogical help.  

Cooperative learning roles

Although the roles are determined, as we have just seen, by the technique used, it is necessary to highlight the essential role of the teacher and that of the students in cooperative learning, which will allow you, for example, to understand the subtle difference between cooperative and collaborative learning. 

Teacher’s role

In cooperative learning, the teacher intervenes to guide the students and assign them a specific role: secretary, spokesperson, time organizer, or moderator. 

In this case, the teacher assumes a multifaceted and proactive role and must ensure that the components of good cooperation are in place: positive interdependence, individual responsibility, personal interaction, social integration, and group evaluation

On the contrary, in collaborative learning, the teacher generally does not participate in the practice, providing the group greater autonomy. 

Student’s role

 As far as the learner is concerned, cooperative learning requires a direct, active, and interactive role. Thanks to these conditions, the student reaches the heights of learning more efficiently and better than individually. 

This explains why this type of learning yields positive results for the integration of people in the face of conflicts that may arise in the face of ethnic, cultural, and religious plurality in a heterogeneous student body. 

Currently, the rise of new educational modalities such as ubiquitous learning requires adapted, safe, and accessible virtual environments that also allow benefiting from cooperative learning. 

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