Do I do Cooperative Learning or Collaborative Learning? Wait…What? Aren’t they the same thing?

As I journey through the education field, I have become confused by the terms collaborative learning and cooperative learning.  Wait…aren’t collaborative and cooperative synonyms?  According to, cooperative is “working or acting together willingly for a common purpose or benefit,” and collaborative ischaracterized or accomplished by collaboration”  Collaboration is defined as “to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work.”  I don’t know about you, but that is about as clear as mud!  

But as I continue to read articles, textbooks, and watch videos on these two types of learning, I think I have struck on the critical difference.  Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy focused on students, of different skill levels, working together to learn a concept and better understand the content.  Collaborative learning is an instructional approach where the students work together to complete an end product or solve a problem.  In essence, cooperative is about the process of learning and collaborative is about the process creating an end result.  The NEA website also gave me some great information regarding cooperative learning.

Cooperative learners must each contribute to the discussion in some way to enhance the learning of the group and are graded individually.  Cooperative learning requires smalls groups to share their knowledge but not create an end product or devise a solution. Well, unless it is in math or chemistry!

cooperative chart.jpg

There are so many long-term benefits of cooperative learning.  As a person who avoided group activities like the plague, I can tell you the repercussions of that followed me into adulthood.  My ability to work in a team was minimal.  My speech was weak and lacked coherency of thought.  I had an emotional intelligence of a 2-year-old.  It was awful!  I also struggled with competing with my colleagues instead of valuing them or seeing how we can help each other.  I feel had I spent more time understanding working in groups with a cooperative learning environment encouraged by the teacher; I would not have spent so much time struggling as an adult.  Cooperative learning encourages sharing, speaking, processing, synthesizing, evaluating, listening, and a whole host of other attributes needed to survive life!

If you are considering cooperative learning in your classroom, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Can I handle a chaotic classroom?  Cooperative learning requires a classroom become several small groups.  Each small group will be sharing information with each other, helping each other, talking, laughing, discussing, and maybe even arguing, about the content.


Am I organized for a cooperative learning experience?  Creating groups in your classroom takes some analysis of each students’ abilities in the subject content you wish them to learn.  You will want a mix of high-level learners with lower-level learners so they can synthesize the material together.

I am excited to learn more about cooperative learning and collaborative learning.  Thanks for journeying with me!

Imgur. (2017, November 09). Steps of cooperative learning. Retrieved from

NEA. (n.d.). Research spotlight on cooperative learning. Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from


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