Cooperative or group learning organizes learners into small groups who can work together to maximize understanding. Research indicates that learners completing cooperative learning group tasks tend to have better test scores, higher self-esteem, improved social skills, and greater comprehension of the subjects they are studying. Perhaps the most significant characteristic of group learning is that it continually requires active participation in the learning process.

Conditions and Controls

In spite of its advantages, success with cooperative or group learning depends on conditions and controls. First of all, instructors need to begin planning early to determine what the group is expected to learn and to be able to do on their own. The group task may emphasize academic achievement, cognitive abilities, or physical skills, but the instructor should use clear and specific objectives to describe the knowledge and/or abilities the learners are to acquire and then demonstrate on their own.

The following conditions and controls are useful for cooperative learning:

  • Small, heterogeneous groups
  • Clear, complete instructions of what learners are to do, in what order, with what materials, and when appropriate—what learners are to do as evidence of their mastery of targeted content and skills
  • Learner perception of targeted objectives as their own, personal objectives
  • The opportunity for learner success
  • Learner access to and comprehension of required information
  • Sufficient time for learning
  • Individual accountability
  • Recognition and rewards for group success
  • Time after completion of group tasks for learners to systematically reflect upon how they worked together as a team

In practice, collaborative, learner-led, instructor-led, or working group strategies are types of group learning. In these examples, the leader or the instructor serves as a coach or facilitator who interacts with the group, as necessary, to keep it on track or to encourage everyone in the group to participate.