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Collaborative Learning

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Collaborative learning approaches

What is it?

A collaborative (or cooperative) learning approach involves pupils working together on activities or learning tasks in a group small enough to ensure that everyone participates. Pupils in the group may work on separate tasks contributing to a common overall outcome, or work together on a shared task. This is distinct from unstructured group work.

Some collaborative learning approaches put pairs, groups or teams of mixed attainment 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 many different kinds of organisation and tasks. Peer tutoring can also be considered as a type of collaborative learning, but is reviewed as a separate topic in the Toolkit.

Key findings

1. Collaborative learning approaches have a positive impact, on average, and may be a cost-effective approach for raising attainment.

2. Pupils need support and practice to work together; it does not happen automatically. Professional development can support the effective management of collaborative learning activities.

3. Tasks and activities need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils may struggle to participate or try to work on their own. It is important to ensure that all pupils talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks to ensure they benefit fully.

4. 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.

5. The most promising collaborative learning approaches tend to have group sizes between 3 and 5 pupils and have a shared outcome or goal.

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