Types of Cooperative Learning

Formal cooperative learning is structured, facilitated, and monitored by the educator over time and is used to achieve group goals in task work (e.g. completing a unit). Any course material or assignment can be adapted to this type of learning, and groups can vary from 2-6 people with discussions lasting from a few minutes up to an entire period.

Types of formal cooperative learning strategies include:
The jigsaw technique
Assignments that involve group problem-solving and decision making
Laboratory or experiment assignments
Peer review work (e.g. editing writing assignments).

Having experience and developing skill with this type of learning often facilitates informal and base learning.Jigsaw activities are wonderful because the student assumes the role of the teacher on a given topic and is in charge of teaching the topic to a classmate. The idea is that if students can teach something, they have already learned the material.

Informal cooperative learning incorporates group learning with passive teaching by drawing attention to material through small groups throughout the lesson or by discussion at the end of a lesson, and typically involves groups of two (e.g. turn-to-your-partner discussions). These groups are often temporary and can change from lesson to lesson (very much unlike formal learning where 2 students may be lab partners throughout the entire semester contributing to one another's knowledge of science).

Discussions typically have four components that include formulating a response to questions asked by the educator, sharing responses to the questions asked with a partner, listening to a partner's responses to the same question, and creating a new well-developed answer. This type of learning enables the student to process, consolidate, and retain more information.

In group-based cooperative learning, these peer groups gather together over the long term (e.g. over the course of a year, or several years such as in high school or post-secondary studies) to develop and contribute to one another's knowledge mastery on a topic by regularly discussing material, encouraging one another, and supporting the academic and personal success of group members.

Base group learning (e.g., a long term study group) is effective for learning complex subject matter over the course or semester and establishes caring, supportive peer relationships, which in turn motivates and strengthens the student's commitment to the group's education while increasing self-esteem and self-worth. Base group approaches also make the students accountable to educating their peer group in the event that a member was absent for a lesson. This is effective both for individual learning, as well as social support.