Cooperative Learning: A Learner Centered Approach

Cooperative Learning-School Education
Cooperative Learning-School Education

Cooperative learning was promoted and developed in USA in 1960s -70s as a response to the forced integration of public schools and has been substantially refined and developed since then according to need of the time.

Cooperative learning is group learning activity organized so that learning is dependent on the socially structured exchange of information between learners in groups and in which each learner is held accountable for his or her own learning and is motivated to increase the learning of others. (Olsen and Kagan 1992:8).

20th century educator John Dewy is usually credited with promoting the idea of building cooperation in learning into regular classrooms on a regular and systematic basis (Rodgers 1988).  Educators were much concerned about the teaching –learning process. In this era educators realized that traditional model of classroom learning were teacher centered, fostered competition rather than cooperation and favored majority students.  They believed that minority of students in this kind of learning environment. Cooperative Learning in this context :-

  1. Raise the achievement of all students, including those who mare gifted or academically handicapped
  2. Help the teacher build positive relationships among students
  3. Give students the experiences they need for healthy social, psychological, and cognitive development
  4. Replace the competitive organizational structure of most classrooms and schools with a term- based , high performance organizational structure (Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec 1994:2)
Cooperative Learning is viewed as a learner –centered approach to teaching held to offer advantages over teacher-fronted classroom methods.

In Cooperative Learning Classroom teaching goals are:-

  1. To provide opportunities for natural way of learning through the use of interactive pair and group activities
  2. To provide opportunities for learners to develop successful learning and communication strategies
  3. To enhance learner motivation and reduce learner stress to create a positive affective classroom climate

So Cooperative Learning is an approach to teaching that makes maximum use of cooperative activities involving pairs and small groups of learners in the classroom.

Cooperative learning advocates draws heavily on the theoretical philosophy of developmental psychologists Jean Piaget( 1965), and Lev Vygotsky (1962), both of whom stress the central role of social interaction in learning. It seeks to develop classrooms that foster cooperation rather than competition in learning.

Cooperation is working together to accomplished shared goals. Within cooperative situations, individuals seek outcomes beneficial to themselves and all other group members.  Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups through which students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. It may be contrasted with competitive learning in which students work against each other to achieve an academic goal such as grade of “A”. (Johnson et al..1994:4). In fact, cooperative learning provide opportunities to include a greater variety of curricular materials to stimulate learning as well as conceptual learning. It also shapes a teacher to become an independent thinker who can master new professional skills, particularly those emphasizing learning in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides opportunities for students to act as resource for each other, thus ensure a more active role in their learning.

Types of learning and teaching activities:

Johnson et al., (1994:4-5) describes three types of cooperative learning groups:

  1. Formal cooperative learning groups. These last from one class period to several weeks. These are established for a specific task and involve students working together to achieve shared learning goals.
  2. Informal cooperative learning groups. These are ad –hoc groups that last from a few minutes to a class period and are used to focus student attention or to facilitate learning during direct teaching.
  3. Cooperative base groups. These are long term, lasting for at least a year and consist of heterogeneous learning groups with stable membership whose primary purpose is to allow members to give each other the support, help, encouragement and assistance they need to succeed academically.

The success of CL is crucially dependent on the nature and organization of group work. this requires a structured programmed of learning carefully designed so that learners interact with each other and are motivated to increase each other’s learning. Olsen and Kagan (1992) propose the following key elements of successful group –based learning in CL:

  1. Positive interdependence
  2. Group formation
  3. Individual accountability
  4. Social skills
  5. Structuring and structures

Positive interdependence occurs when group members feels that what helps one member helps all and what hurts one member hurts all. It is created by the structure of CL tasks and by building a spirit of mutual support within the group. For example, a group may produce a single product such as an easy or the scores for members of a group may be averaged.

Group Formation is an important factor in creating positive interdependence. Factors involved in setting up groups include:

  1. Deciding on the size of groups: This will depend on the tasks they have to carry out, the age of the learners, and time limits for the lesson.  (Ideal group size 2-4)
  2. Assigning students to groups: Groups can be teacher-selected, random, or student selected, although teacher-selected is recommended as the usual mode so as to create groups that are heterogeneous on such variables as past achievement, ethnicity, or sex.
  3. Student roles in group: Each group member has a specific role to play in a group, such as noise monitor, turn –taker monitor, recorder, or summarizer.

Individual accountability involves both group and individual performance, for example , by assigning each student a grade on his her portion of a team project or by calling on a student at random to share with the whole class, with group members , or with another group.

Social skills determine the way students interact with each other as teammates. Usually some explicit instruction in social skills is indeed to ensure successful interaction.

Structuring and structures refer to ways of organizing student interaction and different ways of students’ interaction.

Coelho(1992b:132) describes three major kinds of  cooperative learning tasks and their learning focus, each of which has many variations.

Team practice from common input-skill development and mastery of facts

  1. All students work on same material
  2. Practice could follow a traditional teacher-directed presentation of new material and for that reason is a good starting point for the teachers and /or students new to work group.
  3. The task is to make sure that everyone in the group knows the answer to a question and explain how the answer was obtained or understands the material. Because students want their team to do well, they coach and tutor each other to make sure that any member of the group could answer for all of them and explain their team’ answer.
  4. Any of students can be answer from the group.
  5. This technique is good for review and for practice tests; the group takes the practice test together, but each student will eventually do an assignment or take test individually.
  6. This technique is effective in situations where the composition of the group is unstable. Students can form new groups every day.

Jigsaw: differentiated but predetermined input-evaluation and synthesis of facts and opinions.

  1. Each group member receives a different piece of information.
  2. Students regroup in topic group.
  3. Students share their information with each other.
  4. Students synthesize the information through discussion.
  5. Each student produces an assignment of part of a group project or takes a test.
  6. This method of organization may require team-building activities for long term group involvement.
  7. This method is very useful in the multilevel class, allowing for both homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping in terms of proficiency.

Cooperative projects: topics/resources selected by student-discovery learning

  1. Cooperative projects: topics/resources selected by student-discovery learning.
  2. Topics may be different for each group.
  3. Students identify subtopics for each group member.
  4. Students research the information using resources such as library reference, interviews, and visual media.
  5. Students synthesize their information for a group presentation: oral and /or written. Each group presents the whole class.
  6. This method places greater emphasis on individualization and students’ interests. Each student’s assignment is unique.
  7. Students need plenty of previous experience with more structures group work for this to be effective.

Learner roles in cooperative learning

The primary role of the learner is a member of group who must work collaboratively on tasks with other group members. Learners have to learn team skills. Learners are also directors of their own learning. They are taught to plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning, which is viewed as a compilation of lifelong learning skills. Thus, learning is something that requires students’ direct and active involvement and participation. Pair grouping is the most typical format, ensuring the maximum amount of time both learners spend engaged on learning tasks. Pair tasks in which learners alternate roles involve partners in the role of tutors, checkers, recorders, and information sharers.

Teacher roles in cooperative learning

Transformation from traditional teacher-fronted lesson to students’ centered teaching is the basis of Cooperative Learning approach.  The teacher has to create highly structured and well organized learning environment in the class room, setting goals, planning and structuring tasks, establishing the physical arrangement of the classroom, assigning students to groups and roles, and selecting material and time(Johnson et al.1994). Teacher becomes a facilitator of learning in true sense. The teacher must move around the class helping students and groups as needs arise:

“During the time the teachers interacts, teaches, refocuses, questions, clarifies, supports, expands, celebrate, and empathizes. Depending on what problems evolve, the following supportive behaviours are utilized. Facilitators are giving feedback, redirecting the group with questions, encouraging the group to solve its own problems, extending activity, encouraging thinking, managing conflict, observing students, and supplying resources.” (Harel 1992:169)

Teachers speak less than in teacher-fronted classes. They provide board questions to challenge thinking, they prepare students for the tasks they will carry out, they assist students with the learning tasks and they give few commands, imposing less disciplinary control (Harel 1992). Teacher needs to diagnose the problems some students may have in working together and intervene to increase learning groups’ effectiveness. (Johnson 1994:9 ).


The use of discussion groups, group work, and pair work has been often advocated both in teaching languages and in other subjects. It helps to increase amount of student participation in lessons. In Cooperative Learning, group activities are the major mode of learning. Group activities are carefully planned to maximize students’ interaction and to facilitate students’ contributions to each other’s learning. (Jack  C. Richards: 2006 , 201)

I compiled this article 10 years back. It may be possible that I could not mention all the references here. It is an unintentional act. This article is for the readers’ interest not for publication and other monetary works.


Jack C.Richards., Theodore S. Rodgers. 2006. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (IInd ed.),CUP.

Baloche, L. 1998. The Cooperative Classroom. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.. Prentice Hall

Bloom, S. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: David Mckay

Coelho, E. 1992a. Cooperative Learning: Foundation for a communicative curriculum. In C. Kessler (ed.) Cooperative Language Learning: The Teacher’s Resource Book. New York: Prentice Hall. 31-51

Coelho, E. 1992b. Jigsaw: Integrating language and content. In C. Kessler 129-152

Coelho, E. 1994. Learning Together in Multicultural Classroom. Scarborough, Ont.: Pippin

Harel, Y. 1992. Teacher talk in the cooperative learning classroom. In C. Kessler (ed.) Cooperative Language Learning: Teacher’s Resource Book. New York: Prentice Hall. 153-162

Johnson, D., R. Johnson, and E. Holubec. 1994. Cooperative Learning in the Classroom. Alexandria, Via.: Association for supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kagan, S. 1992. Cooperative Learning. San Jaun Capistrano, Calif.: Kagan Cooperative Learning.

Olsen, R.: and S. Kagan. 1992. About cooperative learning. In C. Kessler(ed.), Cooperative Language Learning: A Teacher’s Resource Book. New York: Prentice Hall. 1-30