Cooperative Learning

We explain what cooperative learning is, its principles and its advantages. In addition, we tell you how it can be applied in the classroom.

Thanks to cooperative learning, four students discuss their ideas.
Cooperative learning raises the need for information exchange between students.

What is cooperative learning?

Learning is the process by which people acquire new knowledge, beliefs, and values., as a result of dynamics of observation, practice and reasoning. Learning is a complex process, which can be approached from different perspectives, and this allows the design of different learning theories, that is, different explanations and descriptions of the subject.

Learning theories, at the same time, allow the creation of different learning and teaching methods, which differ from each other in how they understand the fact of learning. One of these methods is cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is a type of constructivist learning that considers the academic experience as a social fact. within the classroom, and therefore raises the need for teamwork and the exchange of information among students. In this way, students not only play an active role in their own learning, but also enhance that of others.

One of the great promoters and precursors of cooperative learning was the American psychologist John Dewey. (1859-1952), leader in progressive pedagogy in his country during the 20th century. His ideas proposed a “child-centered” teaching, which turned the classroom into a social environment of interaction and mutual help.

See also: Pedagogical approach

Principles of cooperative learning

The principles of cooperative learning can be formulated as follows:

  • Learning is a social fact that occurs in the classroom and that requires both individual effort and the right group context. Cooperation and collaboration are its fundamental precepts, and its ideal dynamic is teamwork.
  • Learning is constructivist, that is, requires the active participation of the student to occur, and should not be relegated to the passive and monotonous role imposed by teaching models based on repetition and memorization.
  • The teacher should act as a guide and companion in the learning process, providing the necessary guidance for it to occur. Their task is to promote comprehensive learning, focused on problem solving.
  • Group learning should be based on synergy, positive interdependence, equal participation and individual responsibilityas well as in simultaneous and face-to-face interaction in problem solving.
  • According to the American psychologist and educator Spencer Kagan, collective learning can be understood under the slogan that “the interaction of the parts exceeds the sum of the isolated parts”.
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Advantages of cooperative learning

Cooperative learning has the following virtues, above traditional educational models:

  • Promotes teamwork, negotiation and recognition of the other. In other words, it fosters the democratic spirit.
  • favors solidarity and cooperation as fundamental values ​​of existence.
  • Promotes respect, tolerance and equalitywithout going to the detriment of the critical sense, the capacity for reflection and individual effort.
  • Prepares the student for social situations complex in his future life.

How to apply cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning requires, as its name suggests, interaction between students, so his favorite method of working is in small groupsof around four members, who should be as heterogeneous as possible. Each individual must have a specific goal.which responds to a carefully designed system of interactions, so that it cannot be achieved without the collaboration and effort of others.

Of course, simply working in groups is not enough to achieve cooperative learning. The idea is to assign certain roles within each group, to encourage internal organization and negotiated management of time and resources. It is vital that all members of the group play some role and that all roles are equally important.

These study groups can be of three types:

  • formal groups, which operate during a variable period between one hour and several weeks of class. The objectives of the group must be common and the students must ensure that each member of the group achieves the proposed goals. The approval of the group will depend on the approval of each of the students.
  • informal groups, which operate during a variable period between a few minutes and an hour of class. They can be used for direct teaching activities (such as demonstrations or exercises), where rapid but candid interaction, communication, and collaboration are required.
  • grassroots groups, which operate on a long-term basis, during the school year. Its members are permanent and should be as heterogeneous as possible, under the central slogan of cooperating academically and socially with the educational progress of each partner. The idea is that the members establish lasting and responsible relationships, that teach them to negotiate and respect each other, based on interdependence.
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Broadly speaking, the work scheme of these groups must respond to work instructions, in which they are assigned active, leading and interdependent roles, which will be developed during a specific time. At the end of said period, the group must self-evaluate and evaluate the performance of each member, under the principles of constructive criticism and the promotion of individual growth.

Continue with: Problem-Based Learning


  • “Theories of learning” on Wikipedia.
  • Cooperative Learning” on Wikipedia.
  • “Cooperative Learning” (video) at UNED.
  • “Cooperative learning in the classroom” at the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain).
  • “Notes on cooperative learning” by Elizabeth Gothelf in the Government of the Argentine Republic.