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ow often do you use the commutable terms but know they are not quite the same? We bet often. Yet, in the case of collaboration vs. cooperation discussion, distinguishing the terms can give you clarity and help organize your courses. 

It all comes down to the roles of instructors and students that affect the latter’s engagement and motivation. 

Sounds exciting?

Read more about the collaborative vs cooperative learning debate and see which method suits your teaching better.

Collaborative vs cooperative learning: The role of the instructor matters

To start with, collaborative learning is a broad concept covering many methods and models. In contrast, the cooperative type constitutes only one of the terms falling under the collaborative framework. 

First, collaborative learning is an approach in which students work together to achieve a goal or do a specific task. Under this method, all the activities focus on learners, promoting shared responsibility for the goals, dynamic work, and community. 

That way, it brings active learning, a high level of engagement, and openness to criticism.

Secondly, cooperative learning is another method in which students work in groups to accomplish a common yet, pre-defined goal within specific planning by the instructor or teacher. Compared to the collaborative approach, the teacher has a greater role in affecting task distribution, differentiation of goals, and student input. 

Ultimately, it is a more orchestrated type of learning, offering less competition and more focus on student results.

Cooperative vs collaborative principles

How did it happen that cooperative and collaborative learning are different? 

Well, the primary reasons are the principles behind each of the types, affecting their implementation. 

Let’s start with collaborative learning. The basis for it comes from the concept of social constructivism. Lev Vygotsky, the “father” of this idea, emphasized that human learning is a social process shaped by interactions with peers and family. 

So, collaborative learning evolved, building the studying process around interaction and shared knowledge. That’s why collaborative learning adheres to the subsequent principles

  • The students can learn if they act, agree on and find the meaning, and negotiate the aims together. 
  • Learners use their strengths to contribute to the work. 
  • There is limited control over the group of learners.
  • There is a less formal setting and more room to embrace students’ individual characteristics. 

What about cooperative learning, then?

It follows different theories. One of them is the cooperation and competition theory, developed by Morton Deutch. Under this framework, cooperation is only possible when there is positive goal interdependence resulting from all members reaching their goals together. 

In contrast, competition is concerned with negative goal interdependence, where students achieve goals only if other group members fail. 

That’s why modern collaborative learning focuses on learners’ participation and teamwork within a group. 

Another vital aspect is the guidance of teachers. Firstly, they ensure that there is no negative goal interdependence. Secondly, they ensure the following principles:

  • The learners’ interactions are diverse, allowing their backgrounds to enrich the group learning experience.
  • There is a correlation between students’ gains and group results.
  • The tasks and goals are distributed equally. 

Collaborative learning vs cooperative learning: main similarities and differences

Seeing how the approaches developed gives you more understanding of how these two types of learning work. Moreover, they show the importance of constructivism theories for learning development.

Collaborative learning vs cooperative learning

And that’s why collaborative and cooperative learning have so many similarities, as they both:

  • Focus solely on student engagement rather than a one-way “lecture.”
  • The students take an amount of responsibility for their education.
  • Teachers play the role of facilitators in the classroom, they motivate learners to work together and develop their social skills.
  • Boost problem-solving and prepare them for the working world.
  • Accept the wide range of student backgrounds.

You probably think that they differ only by the level of formality and the role of the teacher. Nonetheless, they also relate to the learning process, distribution of materials, and interaction. 

We’ve created a table that will help you see the difference between collaborative and cooperative learning:

Difference Collaborative learning Cooperative learning
Definition In a collaborative learning community, students are split up into smaller groups, are better able to investigate key concepts, and build their expertise. Cooperative learning is a style of teaching in which students work in groups toward a common educational goal with the aid of one or more teachers.
Direction Student-led. Instructor-led.
Roles Negotiable. Predefined.
Instructor Possible absence or presence of an instructor. An instructor must be present and is usually more active.
Performance assessment Done by students. Done by the instructor.
Problem-solving techniques Each part of the problem is identified, and students are tasked with figuring out how to solve it individually before the pieces are brought together. Each part of the problem is identified, and students are tasked with figuring out how to solve it individually before the pieces are brought together.
Educational resources Material is shared amongst students, and they independently source additional information. Educational resources are provided by the instructor.
Interaction Informal, adaptable, and less regimented. Formal and regimented.

Collaborative learning vs cooperative learning: why using them to affect students’ and organizations

To begin with, both types contribute to the development of problem-solving, leadership skills, and conflict resolution. On the other hand, they ensure deep learning, which is possible due to increased immersion and higher motivation.

It comes in line with some academic research pieces. Subject to this study, implementing “the combination of PBL and collaborative strategies enhances the learning outcomes of learners.” 

One of the reasons is that high scorers help low scorers to get the idea and proceed together towards a joint goal. Besides, learners admitted that the learning environment became less boring, proving the effect on engagement. 

Cooperation in the workplace and corporate training can provide attractive organizational benefits.

Did you know that around 36% of talent developers agree that driving engagement is one of the significant challenges? 

Using cooperative strategies within corporate training can help. They allow a company to establish an influential learning culture with engagement in the center.

Moreover, around 33% of millennials want a collaborative workplace. This fact provides a room for the inclusion of cooperative and collaborative learning methods into the training curriculum of corporate actors and academies. 

Cooperative learning vs collaborative learning: Best examples to adopt in your courses

You can rely on these two methods to create your course or training. Yet, the choice of the right strategy depends on the students’ learning goals, subject, and engagement. Let’s consider several examples to see how you can use techniques for your workplace.

Cooperative learning cases you can use

Jigsaw technique for a marketing course

Even though many enthusiastic instructors call this method collaborative, their active participation makes it cooperative. 

Imagine you have a new marketing strategy to teach. Your first steps will be to split the learners into home groups and define the expert for each strategy stage. 

After it, gather experts related to each stage within separate groups and make them research the stage specifics. Once all experts explore their steps, make them return to the home group and discuss how to implement this strategy together. 

Case study role play to help colleagues understand each other’s roles

This problem-solving method focuses on a cooperative approach; it can be best implemented within the corporate environment. 

So, assume you offer training to employees within a specific department. 

The student’s goal is to understand how each department member works — their duties and responsibilities, opportunities and limitations. There, the head or general manager may take an instructor’s role. 

Next, define the tasks of each student in terms of the case study and provide the limitation of their position. After they developed their research and action steps, ask them to discuss their solutions and problems. Ultimately, the strategy aims to help them solve problems within the system and work together better.

Collaborative learning cases you can use

Brand analysis within the creative bootcamp

This collaborative strategy is an example of how the MetaSkills Challenge can be applied to studying branding or marketing. 

Let’s say you have 16 learners. Split them into four groups. Next, define the goal: analyze any brand within a specific industry and provide strategies and steps for its growth. 

If your groups consist of experienced specialists there, you may even offer no details. As some students know the industry, the whole group will negotiate their goals and knowledge gaps to handle research together.

That way, you fully let go of the process and can be a facilitator, offering hints or support. You aim to organize proper communication regarding emails, meetings, and tools. Afterward, the learners will decide their objectives and responsibilities to solve the strategy. 

Note. The PBL tasks can refer both to cooperative and collaborative learning; the formality of sessions will matter. 

Peer teaching within the workplace

You can use peer teaching instead of a Jigsaw method or case study implementation. It works best within informal corporate units. 

So, assume there is training to be held. In this regard, as an instructor, you know that one or several of the students is an expert in this subject. Ask them to provide training on the learning needs of the workers within the organization.

In the end, set several sessions where people can ask questions, analyze the subject, or come back with more questions to get insights from the expert. It is an easy yet effective way to learn new concepts as a group and is practical for corporate learning.

Cooperative vs collaborative approach: Key takeaways

As you can see, cooperative and collaborative methods have similarities and differences. They both put equal participation and the interaction of students at the center. Yet, the main difference between cooperative and collaborative learning lies in the formality and the role of the teacher. 

That way, a collaborative approach is less formal, where the students negotiate goals and responsibilities. The cooperative is instructor-led, with the teacher ensuring that everyone participates equally and has one goal. 

Which one should you pick, then? For informal settings and classrooms full of experienced students, pick the collaborative approach. If the topic is too complicated or you know that guidance is necessary for equal participation of all, go for a cooperative one.

In any case, adopting these approaches within your online course will be a great idea. However, before doing so, check the collaborative strategies and consider proper workflow management tools. You can pick a suite of tools or opt for the universal LMS like EducateMe to manage cohorts and think more about course content rather than its management.

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