A collaborative (or cooperative) learning approach involve pupils working together on activities or learning tasks in a group small enough for everyone to participate on a collective task that has been clearly assigned. Pupils in the group may work on separate tasks contributing to a common overall outcome, or work together on a shared task.
Some collaborative learning approaches put mixed ability teams or groups to work in competition with each other in order to drive more effective collaboration. There is a very wide range of approaches to collaborative and cooperative learning involving different kinds of organisation and tasks. Peer tutoring can also be considered as a type of collaborative learning, but in the Toolkit it is reviewed it as a separate topic.
Over 40 years a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have provided consistent evidence about the benefits of collaborative learning. In addition to direct evidence from research into collaborative approaches, there is also indirect evidence that has shown that collaboration can increase the effectiveness of other approaches such as Mastery learning or Digital technology. Collaborative learning appears to work well for all ages if activities are suitably structured for learners’ capabilities and positive evidence has been found across the curriculum. Not all of the specific approaches to collaborative learning adopted by schools have been evaluated, so it is important to evaluate any new initiative in this area.
Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:
Pupils need support and practice to work together; it does not happen automatically.
Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own.
Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively. However, overemphasis on competition can cause learners to focus on winning rather than succeeding in their learning.
It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks to ensure they benefit fully.
Have you considered what professional development is required to support effective use of these approaches?