Guide on Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is not a new concept. Although it made a resurgence in the 20th century, collaborative learning actually dates back centuries. As researcher Lynee Lewis Gaillet notes, even two hundred years ago, professors were having their students perform peer review of their coursework. This peer review was combined with traditional lectures and other methods to maximize a student’s performance.

Educators David Johnson and Roger Johnson place the roots of cooperative learning even further in the distant past. The pair noted that the idea of learning in tandem with another person is a concept that can be found in ancient texts. The Jewish Talmud specifies the need for a learning partner, and the Roman philosopher Seneca advocated for peer instruction. In the 19th century, the Common School Movement placed a heavy emphasis on cooperative learning as well.

Therefore, the core idea that learning is best done in cooperation with others shouldn’t be considered a new concept. Throughout human history, it’s been implemented in different ways. Early 20th century American schools began with cooperative roots before becoming more individualized in nature. It wasn’t until the 1980s that there was a resurgence in the use of cooperative learning.

Types of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning typically draws on the strengths of small groups. In these groups, students work together, with one instructing and another learning. This method allows both students to learn in different ways. Teaching itself acts as a reinforcement for the knowledge that a student already knows.

Within these small groups, there are different types of learning groups: Formal, informal, and cooperative groups. Formal groups often work together to succeed at one specific learning goal. The groups work together as one to complete tasks that can include everything from specific problems to class reports. Formal groups are best suited for larger projects or to support longer term learning goals that a teacher has set.

Informal groups bring students together to achieve a single goal, but these groups have less permanence that formal groups. The big difference is that formal groups work for longer periods, from an entire class period to several weeks of work. Informal groups come together for as little as a few minutes to as much as the entire class period. These less formal groups are ideal for bringing students together to review instructional material, better explain it among one another, and integrate it into larger lessons they’ve learned.

Finally, cooperative base groups are very long-term groups that include the presence of a consistent mentor. These groups require participants to meet regularly on a weekly basis over the course of from one to several years. This form of group is very distinct from others because it is designed to drive academic progress over a very long term. These groups can be particularly helpful because, when students miss a class, others can fill them in on their lessons. The cooperative base group is also useful because mentors can help address weaknesses where students need particular help.

Examples of successful collaborative learning

Cooperative learning is also known as collaborative learning. The power of collaborative learning has long been known. In their report for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, authors Vanessa Vega and Youki Terada detailed the power of learning in collaboration. Their report covered the success of cooperative learning in the areas of both math and English.

Their research looked at the success of the College Preparatory School of Oakland, California. The school placed a premium on collaboration, and its math program involved cooperative approaches in nearly every class. Groups came together to solve worksheets, with each student working on different sets of problems.

More knowledgeable students were able to engage in peer education and help their peers learn. This type of learning helped students improve intrinsic motivation and interpersonal relationships, two factors that were important to keeping students engaged with their work.

A similar approach was taken to English learning, in which students came together to discuss their texts and help each other understand the reading. Even brief sessions of ten minutes were linked with improved understanding of a story’s events and characters.

The students at College Prep sat in discussions that included as many as 16 students and allowed the students to lead the discussions. Teachers facilitated the talks, which led to improvements in critical thinking and factual understanding of the reading.

This was only one example of how collaborative learning helped students to achieve greater success in their schools. However, the future of collaborative learning will be increasingly centered on how technology can be integrated into the learning process.

As reported by Heather B. Hayes for EdTech Magazine, advances in technology will become increasingly important for improving collaboration between students and teachers. Cloud technology, as one example, will allow students to collaborate in ways that were previously much more difficult. In previous decades, working on a single document would have required time and effort to coordinate.

Today, cloud technology makes the collaborative production of documents a much simple process. Students can work together in Google Docs and other cloud-based writing applications. This allows group projects to be completed much more easily, with multiple authors working on the same project to create a single document. Students are able to work on different tasks and research different topics that can inform the document. Comments and feedback can also be left by group members to help improve each student’s individual writing.

This approach to collaborative document creation helps students pick up many new skills. Teamwork skills are learned, editing skills acquired, and critical thinking skills improved. This entire process is made faster and more efficient by implementing cloud technology into the collaborative process, which makes cloud-based technology important to the future of collaborative education.

Ways to enhance collaboration

Concordia University came up with four keys to enhancing student collaboration in the classroom. To cultivate increased collaboration, teachers should consider the following: demographics, curriculum, hands-on activities, and lesson creation. Here’s what they concluded.

When it comes to creating collaborative groups, it’s often important for instructors to consider the demographics of their students. Ideal groups should function cooperatively but also play to the strengths of each individual student. In some cases, students with multiple overlapping strengths might be necessary.

In other cases, it might be more important to keep a blend of students with differing strengths. Make sure to create groups that can work effectively toward the goals you’ve set for the lesson.

Researchers also found that collaborative activities are particularly effective when working with new materials. When starting work on a new lesson, it might be effective to break up the instruction every so often with group discussions and work. After a brief time working together, a group speaker can present the group’s findings.

Teachers may also want to bring together collaborative groups to complete hands-on projects. This can take the form of everything from creating games to making visual representations of scenes from history. Collaborative groups are particularly effective handling larger projects, since each student can handle a different part of the project.

Finally, you can split large lessons into equal parts that each group can handle. For instance, incidents from history can be split into segments, and each group can work on different ways that the incident played out. Each group can make presentations on their findings. When all the presentations are over, students should have a very complete understanding of what caused the incident and what the aftermath was.


Cooperative and collaborative learning have been a part of educational instruction for centuries. However, it has recently experienced a resurgence in the American school system.

Instructors and schools can put together groups that work either for short- or long-term periods. Technology may play a part in collaboration, but it isn’t required.

What’s important is that students get to interact with each other, bring their strengths to the lesson, and work toward a more thorough understanding of a subject.

Read Also:
Teaching Methods and Strategies: The Complete Guide
Blended Learning Guide
Flipped Classroom Guide
Game Based Learning Guide
Gamification in Education Guide
Holistic Education Guide
Maker Education Guide
Personalized Learning Guide
Place-Based Education Guide
Project-Based Learning Guide
Scaffolding in Education Guide
Social-Emotional Learning Guide

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