Collaborative Learning vs. Cooperative Learning: What’s the difference?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

This quote perfectly encapsulates the essence of both collaborative and cooperative learning. Amongst other teaching methods and strategies like the chunking method,  drill and practice, and heuristic method, collaborative and cooperative learning emphasize the power of working together to achieve common goals and promote active learning.

Collaborative and cooperative learning are two teaching methodologies that have gained popularity recently due to their focus on student engagement and active participation. While these approaches share some similarities, they also have distinct differences. 

This post tends to explore what is collaborative and cooperative learning in detail along with their unique characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks. We will also examine research on the effectiveness of these teaching methodologies and whether one is better than the other. So buckle up and get ready to learn more about these exciting and innovative teaching techniques!

Exploring the definition and distinguished characteristics of collaborative and cooperative learning

Collaborative learning and cooperative learning are both methods of group-based learning that encourage interaction and cooperation among participants. Although they share some similarities, there are some key differences between the two.

Collaborative learning involves a group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal or complete a task. In this approach, each individual is responsible for their own learning, but they work together with others to solve problems and create new ideas.

For example, a group of students in a science class may work together to design and carry out an experiment. Each student brings their own unique perspective and skills to the project, and they collaborate to analyze their results and draw conclusions.

Cooperative learning, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of working together as a team towards a shared goal. In this approach, each individual is responsible not only for their own learning but also for helping their teammates learn and succeed.

For example, a group of employees in a business may work together to develop a marketing campaign. Each team member takes on a specific role, such as researching target demographics or designing advertising materials, and they work collaboratively to create a cohesive and effective campaign.

Working together to succeed: Common and unique benefits of collaborative and cooperative learning strategies

Some benefits are common to both approaches, while others are unique to each.

I. Common Benefits:

  1. Enhanced Learning: Both collaborative and cooperative learning can lead to enhanced learning outcomes due to the increased opportunities for interaction and discussion
  2. Improved Critical Thinking: Group-based learning can help learners develop critical thinking skills as they discuss and analyze ideas and information.
  3. Increased Engagement: Working in groups can increase learners’ engagement with the material as they have the opportunity to share their ideas and opinions.
  4. Greater Retention: Collaborative and cooperative learning can improve learners’ retention of information by allowing them to learn from and teach their peers

II. Unique Benefits:

1. Collaborative Learning:

  • Individual Creativity: Collaborative learning encourages individual creativity and responsibility as learners work together to develop solutions and ideas.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Collaborative learning allows learners to benefit from diverse perspectives and experiences, leading to a richer learning experience.
  • Higher-Order Thinking: Collaborative learning can promote higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as learners work together to solve complex problems.

2. Cooperative Learning:

  • Positive Interdependence: Cooperative learning creates a sense of positive interdependence among group members, leading to greater support and motivation.
  • Social Development: Cooperative learning can promote social development by helping learners build relationships with their peers and learn to work effectively in groups

Cons of collaborative learning and cooperative Learning to consider

Collaborative learning and cooperative learning are both popular teaching methodologies that involve students working together in groups to achieve a common goal. While these approaches have many benefits, such as promoting active learning, improving critical thinking skills, and encouraging positive social interactions, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. Here are some cons of collaborative and cooperative learning:

  1. Unequal participation: In group settings, it’s not uncommon for some students to contribute more than others. Some may dominate the conversation, while others may remain silent. This can create an uneven distribution of work and can cause some students to feel left out or disengaged.
  2. Conflict and disagreements: When students work together in groups, it’s natural for disagreements and conflicts to arise. These can be due to differences in personality, work style, or opinions on how to complete the task at hand. Resolving these conflicts can be time-consuming and may require teacher intervention.
  3. Time constraints: Collaborative and cooperative learning can be time-consuming, especially if group members need extra time to come to a consensus or to address conflicts. This can be a challenge in classrooms where time is limited.
  4. Individual accountability: In some cases, it may be difficult to hold individual students accountable for their contributions to a group project. This can be especially challenging if the project is graded as a group assignment, as it can be hard to determine who did what.

Overall, collaborative and cooperative learning can be highly effective teaching methodologies when implemented properly. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks and to take steps to address them proactively

Which is more popular in education?

Both cooperative and collaborative learning are popular teaching strategies and are widely used in classrooms around the world. The popularity of each approach may depend on factors such as the subject area, grade level, and the specific goals and objectives of the lesson or activity.

In some subject areas, such as science and math, cooperative learning may be more commonly used to encourage problem-solving and group work. In other subject areas, such as English language, arts, and social studies, collaborative learning may be more commonly used to encourage critical thinking and discussion.

What does the research say about which approach is better for student success?

Cooperative learning[1] has been found to improve student achievement and promote positive social behavior. Students who engage in cooperative learning tend to perform better on tests, retain information better, and have better problem-solving skills. Evaluating the importance of the learning environment, cooperative learning also promotes positive social behavior, such as empathy, cooperation, and understanding of diverse perspectives. 

Similarly, collaborative learning[2] has shown active student participation, enhances critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and encourages positive social interactions. Collaborative learning can improve academic performance, increase motivation, and a greater sense of belonging within the classroom community.


To conclude, Cooperative learning may be more effective when students need to rely on each other to complete a task, such as in group projects or problem-based learning activities. It is also useful when students need to develop their social skills, empathy, and understanding of diverse perspectives.

Collaborative learning, on the other hand, maybe more effective in situations where students need to work together to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It can also be useful when students must take on different roles and responsibilities to achieve a common goal.

Ultimately, the choice between cooperative and collaborative learning should be based on the needs and goals of the students and the learning objectives of the lesson or activity.


  1. Gillies, R. M. (2016). Cooperative Learning: Review of Research and Practice. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(3), 39–54.
  2. Laal, M., & Ghodsi, S. M. (2012). Benefits of collaborative learning. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 486–490.

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