CL1 - FAQs: "Collaborative versus cooperative learning?"













"What's the difference between collaborative and cooperative learning?"

The terms collaborative learning and cooperative learning sometimes are used interchangeably. This is reasonable, as both favor small-group active student participation over passive, lecture-based teaching and each require a specific task to be completed. Each strategy inherently supports a discovery based approach to learning. The two methods assign various group roles though collaborative learning can have fewer roles assigned. In both situations, student members are required to possess group skills though cooperative learning may include this as a instructional goal. Each plan comes with a framework upon which the group's activity resides, but cooperative learning is usually more structurally defined than collaborative learning (Cooper and Robinson, 1997; Smith and MacGregor, 1992; Rockwood, 1995a, 1995b).

However, practioners point out that these two terms are different. Rockwood (Rockwood, 1995a, 1995b) characterizes the differences between these methodologies as one of knowledge and power: Cooperative learning is the methodology of choice for foundational knowledge (i.e., traditional knowledge) while collaborative learning is connected to the social constructionist's view that knowledge is a social construct. He further distinguishes these approaches by the instructor's role: In cooperative learning the instructor is the center of authority in the class, with group tasks usually more closed-ended and often having specific answers. In contrast, with collaborative learning the instructor abdicates his or her authority and empowers the small groups who are often given more open-ended, complex tasks. Rockwood uses both approaches depending on the academic maturity of his students. He favors the more structured cooperative learning style for foundational knowledge typified in gateway courses, and depends on the laissez faire approach of collaborative learning for higher level, less foundational knowledge content. Other terms are used as well in conjunction with collaborative/cooperative learning. These include: team learning; problem-based learning including guided design, case studies, simulations; peer-assisted instruction including supplemental instruction, writing fellows, mathematics workshops; discussion groups and seminars; learning communities; and lab work Check the bibliography for more information about these.(Cooper and Robinson, 1997; MacGregor, 1990; Smith and MacGregor, 1992).

Cooper, J., and Robinson, P. (1998). "Small group instruction in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology." Journal of College Science Teaching 27:383.

MacGregor, J. (1990). "Collaborative learning: Shared inquiry as a process of reform" In Svinicki, M. D. (Ed.), The changing face of college teaching, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 42.

Rockwood, H. S. III (1995a). "Cooperative and collaborative learning" The national teaching & learning forum, 4 (6), 8-9.

Rockwood, H. S. III (1995b). "Cooperative and collaborative learning" The national teaching & learning forum, 5 (1), 8-10.

Smith, B. L., and MacGregor, J. T. (1992). "What is collaborative learning?" In Goodsell, A. S., Maher, M. R., and Tinto, V., Eds. (1992), Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education. National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, & Assessment, Syracuse University.

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