Cooperative learning: characteristics and educational implications

Cooperative learning: characteristics and educational implications

Learning is a lifelong process. At each stage of it, we learn certain things. In the school environment, for example, the knowledge taught is usually general for everyone. But how do you work to enhance learning?

There are many forms of teaching; in this article we will discuss one of them: cooperative learning . We will know what it consists of, what its objectives and foundations are, and how it differs from the classic methodology of “working in groups”.

The learning process

Learning is the process by which we acquire new knowledge, skills or abilities . It is a process that lasts a lifetime, since we learn at school when we are young, but also at high school, at university, and throughout our lives, through different personal experiences.

When we speak of learning in schools, we are referring to a more circumscribed and concrete type of learning; this type of learning is acquired through the teachings or instructions provided by the teacher in the classroom. We learn in different ways and through different activities, tasks and exercises. Moreover, each person learns at his/her own pace and according to his/her personal characteristics .

Cooperative Learning: What is it?

As we have seen, learning that takes place within the school context is a fairly concrete type of learning, but which in turn can be divided into different types of learning. One of them is cooperative learning, which consists of a set of procedures and teaching methods based on dividing the students in the class into small groups .

This procedure, however, is not based on the classic formation of working groups, and we will see their differences later on.

Groups formed through cooperative learning are usually mixed (both boys and girls) and heterogeneous (the characteristics of the students are different from one another); through these groups the students work in a cooperative way, that is, in a joint and coordinated way.

In these small groups or “teams” of work, each member of the group contributes his or her own knowledge and uses his or her own skills to be able to work together cooperatively.


The main objective of cooperative learning is to provide students with deep learning, thanks to the contributions and differences of each member of the small group. Thus, through cooperative learning, the aim is for the students to be able to solve the tasks proposed to them as a group and to manage to deepen their own learning.

On the other hand, in cooperative learning there is a series of learning situations where the objectives of the group members are related ; that is, the individual objectives end up being group objectives, since in order to achieve the objectives individually, it is necessary that the other members also achieve their own (it is the only way to go on surpassing goals).


Some of the benefits or advantages of cooperative learning, compared to other types of learning, are the following.

On the one hand, students can be more motivated to solve tasks , as they have the support of others and work in groups. In addition, cooperative learning fosters attitudes of showing initiative and involvement. The quality of the work or tasks can be increased in comparison to working individually, and the degree of mastery of the concepts and knowledge acquired can also be increased.

Finally, socialization can also be beneficial for student learning , not only academically, but also personally and emotionally.


Cooperative learning, as a method of learning, is based on a series of values and foundations. Some of the most important are:

1. Increasing academic performance

One of the objectives of this type of learning (and that is why it is based on it) is to increase the student’s academic performance. This is achieved through the help of the different members of the group . Each person contributes what he/she knows, wants or can, and that is what cooperative learning, cooperation and mutual help is based on.

2. Group work

In this way, the increase of the student’s academic performance and the achievement of a deep learning is achieved thanks to the support and the group and cooperative work. That is why this type of learning is enriched by socialization and interpersonal relationships.

Thus, cooperative learning considers that, depending on which subjects or aspects are to be taught, more will be learned by working in a group (i.e. socially) than individually .

3. Value of interpersonal relationships

In relation to the previous foundation, this assumption or foundation can be extracted, which states that social or interpersonal relationships are important to enhance student learning. That is, these constitute important educational potentials, and are achieved through the constitution of groups.

4. Socialization and integration

Cooperative learning considers the processes of socialization and integration as key tools in the educational process of children and adolescents. These processes provide very relevant values for students , such as the importance of cooperation and teamwork.

Differences with classic group work

Co-operative learning, as we have already mentioned, is based on the organisation and formation of small working groups; however, it is not the classic “group work”. So how do the two types of learning differ? Basically, the differences are based on the above-mentioned fundamentals and other examples. Let’s look at it:

Importance of interpersonal relationships

The main difference between cooperative learning and classic teamwork is that in the first type of methodology, special value is placed on the interpersonal relationships that arise (or that already exist) in the group itself. These relationships serve as the basis or origin of new forms of learning.

2. Unbalanced learning

On the other hand, in the cooperative learning there is a learning by unbalance ; this implies that we learn through the potentialities and weaknesses of each member, as in a scale or puzzle, where each one contributes what he knows and where as a whole the “puzzle” is formed.

3. Socio-Cognitive Conflict Theory

Another of the foundations or distinctive features of cooperative learning, and which differentiates it from classic group work, is that it is based on the so-called “socio-cognitive conflict theory”.

Specifically, the socio-cognitive conflict is based on a problem-solving process that is solved by two people , and is formed by two moments or stages; in the first stage, there is a disagreement in how the problem in question is being solved (since the procedure being used is ineffective). This creates a need to consider the other person’s point of view.

The second stage consists of the appearance of a cognitive contradiction (“I think one thing, which is not effective, and the other thinks another”); this contradiction creates, in turn, the need to construct a common path containing the two perspectives or points of view, in order to obtain a single, joint solution.

Finally, the result or benefits obtained are twofold: on the one hand, a resolution of the conflict or problem, and on the other, a cognitive restructuring of both participants.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rué, J. (1991). El treball cooperatiu. Barcelona: Barcanova.
  • Rué, J. (1994 ). El trabajo cooperativo, in Dader, P., Gairín, J., (eds).
  • Peralta, N. (2012). Application of the theory of socio-cognitive conflict to academic learning. National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

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