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Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning is an instructional approach that, as the name suggests, promotes learning of a specific topic through the cooperation of learners divided into small groups. The “cooperative” aspect emphasizes learner involvement and social organization. In fact, individuals contribute to the learning process in an interdependent manner, meaning they’re asked to solve individual and collective tasks to reach a shared, common goal


Bottom line: this methodology is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – even when it comes to learning. Curious to know more? Read on to get some tips and tricks on the matter.


Cooperative learning is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

No joke. But it’s all about PIES

Evocative acronyms are the education world’s bread and butter, and sometimes the buzz can get confusing. If you hear about pies when you are not at a bakery or dinner table, you might be in for a discussion about Spencer Kagan’s structural approach to collaborative learning.  It’s one of the most common approaches to collaborative learning and could be implemented in any learning context. This approach is based on four principles, often referred to as PIES – no pun intended:

  • P = Positive Interdependence: Everyone has to work together to reach the group’s overall goal. That is: Are your learners working towards the same objective? Do they have to work together to complete the task?
  • I = Individual Accountability: Each person is responsible for their own actions and decisions. That is: Can every member of the group be considered accountable for their choices in the learning exercise?
  • E = Equal Participation: Everyone takes part, and no one is left out. That is: Everyone must have the opportunity to make their mark. Is everyone following the same rules and playing their part?
  • S = Simultaneous Interaction: It’s all about real-time collaboration and getting immediate feedback. That is: Will everyone be working together at the same time?

According to Kagan, educators need to take into consideration all four principles in order to create cooperative learning experiences that work. So, make sure you keep these self-check questions handy before and while building the activity.

The role of the instructor

The role of the learners changes as they actively build and apply knowledge by becoming more accountable, active, and helpful – contributing to a common learning goal. What happens to the instructor’s role, though? How do they take part in the learning activity

Before the activity 

Cooperation is a matter of strategy. The instructor must decide on the learning objectives and choose the most appropriate activity to achieve them. Note: the size and composition of the groups can vary depending on the context and objectives. So, if you’re organizing a workshop on how AI will impact your industry, remember to ask yourself questions like: What prerequisites do my learners need to know? What materials can I share with them?

At the start of the activity

Every learning activity comes with a learning environment. The instructor must design the learning environment (whether online or in-person) to facilitate collaboration among groups and peers. According to Kagan, groups of four are the best way to get started.

During the activity

Stay cooperative. Stay active. In the cooperative learning process, the instructor moves between groups to check in, answer questions, and help learners reach their goals. In the case of the AI workshop example, the instructor will move from one group to another to guide learners as they discuss the benefits and challenges of AI, ensuring the 4 PIES principles are respected. 

After the activity

Consider how to evaluate student work by assessing both their individual and group efforts. For example, which group was the one that came up with the most innovative AI application? You could also double-check with a dedicated test if all learners grasp the basic concepts behind the workshop.

How to spark Cooperative Learning on WeSchool

If you are affected by one of these e-learning biases (link), you might think that Collaborative Learning is a methodology you can apply only in person, without the support of technology. Alas, this myth has been shattered! For example, here’s how you can leverage WeSchool technology to bring Cooperative Learning to life both online and in person:

How to
  • Share a to-do list on the Wall section: this will help learners have a clearer picture of what they’re asked to do, which is essential to ensure a positive outcome to the experience.
  • Create different open documents for each group and upload everything in the Module section: sometimes learners need a little nudge. Pro tip: prepare templates to help learners collaborate more efficiently.
  • Use the Calendar & Activity Planner features as intermediate checkpoints, assessing learners’ progress as they work on their tasks together.

TL;DR: Cooperative Learning in a nutshell

Interdependence, Accountability, Participation, Interaction. Four words, one approach. Cooperative Learning is a teaching method that helps learners reach a common goal under the guidance of an instructor, based on the principle that the learning result is greater than the sum of its parts.

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