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Yes Virginia, There Is A Big Difference Between Cooperative And Collaborative Learning Paradigms

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 


Two of the "hot button" learning-centered paradigms currently in

vogue are those of cooperative and collaborative learning. Yet, there

is considerable confusion as to their similarities and differences.

In the posting below, Dr. Theodore (Ted) Panitz of Cape Cod

Community College, in Barnstable, MA, looks at the distinguishing

features of these two paradigms. The posting is an excerpt from a

longer article that can be found at: from here you will need

to link to Teds coop page and then Teds articles; scroll down to the

article on coop/collab definitions.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Re-Envisioning the Ph.D. - Recommendations for Further Action

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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By Dr. Theodore Panitz

Cape Cod Community College



Author's note:

The following serves as an introduction for a longer more detailed

comparison of the student centered learning paradigms, cooperative and

collaborative learning. Over the years I have received many questions

about the differences between these two paradigms. I have scoured the

literature and extracted viewpoints from many of the key people who use

and research these teaching/learning paradigms. In addition I have tried

to present my interpretation based upon my own experiences in the



Collaborative learning will be defined by comparing it's characteristics

to those of cooperative learning paradigms. Each paradigm represents one

end of a spectrum of teaching-learning which ranges from being highly

structured by the teacher (cooperative) to one which places the

responsibility for learning primarily with the student (collaborative).

The underlying premise for both collaborative and cooperative learning

is founded in constructivist epistemology. Knowledge is discovered by

students and transformed into concepts students can relate to. It is

then reconstructed and expanded through new learning experiences.

Learning consists of active participation by the student versus passive

acceptance of information presented by an expert lecturer. Learning

comes about through transactions among students and between faculty and

students, in a social setting, as they construct a knowledge base.

Ken Bruffee (1995 "Sharing our toys- Cooperative learning versus

collaborative learning". Change, Jan/Feb, 1995 pp12-18) identifies two

causes for the differences between the two approaches. He states:

"First, collaborative and cooperative learning were developed originally

for educating people of different ages, experience and levels of mastery

of the craft of interdependence. Second, when using one method or the

other method, teachers tend to make different assumptions about the

nature and authority of knowledge. The age or education levels as a

distinction have become blurred over time as practitioners at all levels

mix the two approaches. However, what determines which approach is used

does depend upon the sophistication level of the students involved, with

collaborative requiring more

advanced student preparation working in groups." (p12)

Brufee sees education as a reacculturation process through constructive

conversation. Students learn about the culture of the society they wish

to join by developing the appropriate vocabulary of that society and by

exploring that society's culture and norms (i.e. that of mathematician,

historian, journalist, etc.). He identifies two types of knowledge as a

basis for choosing an

approach. Foundational knowledge is the basic knowledge represented by

socially justified beliefs we all agree on. Correct spelling and

grammar, mathematics procedures, history facts, a knowledge of the

contents of the constitution, etc., would represent types of

foundational knowledge. these are best learned using cooperative

learning structures in the early grades

Nonfoundational knowledge is derived through reasoning and questioning

versus rote memory. The other way in which nonfoundational education

differs from foundational is that it encourages students not to take

their teacher's authority for granted. Students should doubt answers and

methods for arriving at answers provided by their professors, and

perhaps more importantly they need to be helped to come to terms with

their doubts by participating actively in the learning and inquiry

process. Out of this process knew knowledge is often created, something

not likely to occur when dealing with the facts and information

associated with foundational knowledge. Collaborative learning shifts

the responsibility for learning away from the teacher as expert to the

student, and perhaps teacher, as learner.

Brufee sees the two approaches as linear with collaborative learning

being designed to pick up where cooperative learning leaves off. In

effect, students learn basic information and processes for interacting

socially in the primary grades and then extend their critical thinking

and reasoning skills and

understanding of social interactions as they become more involved and

take control of the learning process through collaborative activities.

This transition may be viewed as a continuum from a closely controlled,

teacher-centered system to a student-centered system where the teacher

and students share authority and control of learning.

The following definitions for collaboration and cooperation form the

basis for their teaching paradigms.

Collaboration is a philosophy of interaction where individuals are

responsible for their actions, including learning and respect the

abilities and contributions of their peers. Collaborative learning is a

personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique. In all situations

where people come together in groups, it suggests a way of dealing with

people which respects and highlights individual group members' abilities

and contributions. There is a sharing of authority and acceptance of

responsibility among group members for the groups actions. The

underlying premise of collaborative learning is based upon consensus

building through cooperation by group members. (T. Panitz , (1997),

"Collaborative Versus Cooperative Learning: Comparing the Two

Definitions Helps Understand the nature of Interactive learning"

Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, V8, No. 2, Winter 1997,

Panitz, T., and Panitz, P., (1998) "Encouraging the Use of

Collaborative Learning in Higher Education." In J.J. Forest (ed.)

Issues Facing International Education, June, 1998, NY, NY: Garland


Cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the

accomplishment of a specific end product or goal through people working

together in groups. Cooperative learning is defined by a set of

processes which help people interact together in order to accomplish a

specific goal or develop an end product which is usually content

specific. It is more directive than a collaborative system of governance

and closely controlled by the teacher. While there are many mechanisms

for group analysis and introspection the fundamental approach is teacher

centered whereas collaborative learning is student centered. (Panitz

1997, 1998) Spencer Kagan (1989, Educational Leadership (Dec/Jan

1989/1990)) defines cooperative learning: "The structural approach to

cooperative learning is based on the creation, analysis and systematic

application of structures, or content-free ways of organizing social

interaction in the classroom. Structures usually involve a series of

steps, with proscribed behavior at each step. An important cornerstone

of the approach is the distinction between "structures" and

"activities". To illustrate, teachers can design many excellent

cooperative activities, such as making a team mural or a quilt. Such

activities almost always have a specific content-bound objective and

thus cannot be used to deliver a range of academic content. Structures

may be used repeatedly with almost any subject matter, at a wide range

of grade levels and at various points in a lesson plan."

Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1998, Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., Smith,

K.A., Change, July/August) clarify theories which govern cooperative

learning strategies. "Social interdependence theory assumes that

cooperative efforts are based on intrinsic motivation generated by

interpersonal factors and a joint aspiration to achieve a significant

goal. Behavioral learning theory assumes that cooperative efforts are

powered by extrinsic motivation to

achieve rewards. Social interdependence theory focuses on relational

concepts dealing with what happens among individuals, whereas the

cognitive-development perspective focuses on what happens within a

single person (p29).

Many of the elements of cooperative learning may be used in

collaborative situations. For example students work in pairs together in

a Think-Pair-Share procedure, where students consider a question

individually, discuss their ideas with another student to form a

consensus answer, and then share their results with the entire class. In

the Jig Saw method (Aronson, E., Blaney, N., Stephan, C., Sikes, J.,

Snapp, M. (1978) The Jigsaw Classroom, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage

Publication), students become "experts" on a concept and are responsible

for teaching it to the other group members. Slavin (1978, "Student

Teams Achievement Divisions", Journal of Research and Development in

Education, 12 (June), pp39-49) developed Student

Teams-Achievement-Divisions where the teacher presents a lesson, then

the students meet in teams of four or five members to complete a set of

worksheets on the lesson. Each student then takes a quiz on the

material. Bonus points are given to the team if any member's score

improves according to a preset criteria. The highest scoring teams are

recognized in a weekly class newsletter.