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Collaborative and Cooperative Learning

Collaborative learning involves students working together to create synergy. Through a shared learning experience, students are able to accomplish more than they would be able to do individually. In distance learning, collaborative work has the added benefit of contributing a social element to a learning experience. This is particularly useful for students who find online learning isolating and crave interaction with classmates.

Teen group

Identifying a Purpose

Before designing group learning experiences, identify the purpose of the collaboration. Group work can be time consuming and technically challenging. In addition, not all students enjoy or benefit from this approach. Use collaborative or cooperative learning approaches to meet specific learning goals.

Collaborative experiences are particularly useful when:

Assigning Learner Roles

Before selecting collaboration activities, consider the role of learners.


Providing Clear Guidelines

When designing collaborative assignments, provide clear guidelines including:

Providing Learning Spaces

Students need designated learning spaces for collaborative activities including:

Explore the Sustainability Wiki. It's an example of a class wiki focusing on sustainability.

Promoting Cooperative Learning

In cooperative learning situations, students work through an assignment as a team. Each member is responsible for their own learning as well as the work of their teammates. As a result, students learn from each other's effort and share in the success and/or failure of the group. These types of experiences have been shown to promote a sense of community in online learning environments.

This type of teamwork has been shown to promote learning, student retention, and enhance student satisfaction. In online learning environments, the sense of social presence is increased making some student more comfortable about distance learning.

Cooperative learning involves:

Designing Group Activities

Although there are many ways to structure cooperative learning activities, three popular approaches are listed below.

Brainstorming. Although there are many ways to use brainstorming, a round robin works well in an online, cooperative learning situation.

Jigsaw. Developed by Elliot Arnson, this approach involves learners becoming experts in a topic and sharing their expertise with others. Learn more about the Jigsaw approach at Jigsaw Classroom. This approach can be used to chapters or a book, novels, math problems, software packages learned, websites evaluated, etc.


Establish a positive atmosphere for community building.

Design ongoing activities to establish and maintain a sense of community.

apply itApply It!
Examine your online course.
Design activities that will help establish community at the beginning of the course.
Identify a few ways that you will nurture community throughout your course.

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