Traditional versus Cooperative Groups

Cooperative Groups are more than just letting student work together; they are structured learning environments. Johnson, Johnson and Smith (Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom, 1991, Interaction Book Company, Edina, MN, ISBN 0-939603-14-4) warn us that only under certain conditions can we expect cooperative efforts to be productive. Those conditions are:

  1. Clearly perceived positive interdependence.
  2. Considerable promotive (face-to-face) interaction.
  3. Clearly perceived individual accountability and personal responsibility to achieve the group's goals.
  4. Frequent use of the relevant interpersonal and small group skills.
  5. Frequent and regular group processing of current functioning to improve the group's future effectiveness.

The follow table is provided to help distinguish between traditional and cooperative learning groups.

Traditional Learning Groups Cooperative Learning Groups
  • Focus is on individual performance only.
  • Group members compete with each other and withhold information -- "If you succeed, I loose."
  • Only individual accomplishments are rewarded.
  • Focus is on group performance.
  • Each group member believes that they cannot succeed unless the other members of the group succeed (and visa versa) -- If you win, I win!"
  • Group as well as individual accomplishments are rewarded.
  • Assignments are discussed with little commitment to each other's learning.
  • Group members help, assist, encourage, and support each other's efforts to learn.
  • Individual accountability only -- I don't care if the other members in the group learn.
  • Both group and individual accountability.
  • Members hold self and others accountable for high quality work.
  • Social skills are assumed or ignored.
  • One person often "takes charge" and does all the work.
  • Teamwork skills are emphasized -- members are taught and expected to use collaborative skills.
  • Leadership shared by all members.
  • No processing of how well the group is functioning or the quality of its work.
  • Students have time and are given a procedure to analyze how well their groups are functioning, how well they are using the appropriate social skills, and how to improve the quality of their work together.
  • Little or no attention to group formation (students often select members).
  • Groups typically large (5-10 members).
  • Teacher ignores groups.
  • Teacher assigns students to heterogeneous groups.
  • Groups are typically small (3 - 5 members).
  • Teacher observes and intervenes when necessary.

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Last Updated: March 5, 1997