Cooperative Learning is a teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different abilities, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject.
Although cooperative learning takes place within teams of students it is not to be confused with mere group work. The main difference between the two is in the cooperative nature of the learning. In fact, cooperative learning has been found to help develop and enhance a number of skills from individual accountability to social skills.
Students whose classroom activities are organized into academic and social learning experiences show greater achievement, retain information better, are socially more apt and better at oral communication.
The first cooperative learning theory came to the fore during the 1930s and 1940s as a result of several studies made by a number of social theorists who noticed that people working as a group were more efficient in terms of overall productivity than people who worked alone.
This observation applied to a school setting saw students become active participants in the lessons, engaging at group level in the learning process rather than passively receiving knowledge and information from the teacher. Needless to say, the role of the teacher in a CL approach changes from giving information to facilitating students’ learning.
However cooperative learning remained relatively unknown and largely ignored by educators for decades with schools of all levels dominated by teaching strategies that favored competitive and individualistic learning.
Now CL learning is a widely accepted teaching strategy at all levels of education.
The Ideal CL Classroom
In the ideal CL classroom, all students would learn how to work cooperatively with others, compete for fun and enjoyment, and work autonomously on their own. The teacher decides which goal structure to implement within each lesson. The most important goal structure, and the one that should be used the majority of the time in learning situations, is cooperation. (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1999).