This module models the UDL Principles of Representation and Action & Expression.

Cooperative Learning

Collaborative group technique for Increasing Representation, Expression, and Engagement.


Contributing Faculty

Dr. Kristen Cuthrell

Dr. Kristen Cuthrell
College of Education
East Carolina University


Innovative teaching isn’t always informed by new developments. Sometimes it’s situated in the past, drawing from established methods proven to enhance student learning. Cooperative learning is one such strategy that has been revitalized in recent years by college faculty who want to engage students by involving them directly in the learning process.

At East Carolina University (ECU), Dr. Kristen Cuthrell, an associate professor, uses cooperative learning with her students in the College of Education’s Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education, not only to help them learn the material but also to teach them the techniques they will be using in their own classrooms someday.

Cooperative learning techniques demonstrate that working together as a group cultivates learning, surpassing the achievements realized under the competitive model of individual learning. In practice for centuries, cooperative learning’s application has grown to encompass modern-day college classrooms. Numerous researchers have documented its benefits. Researchers and brothers David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson at the University of Minnesota have championed the strategy for more than 20 years, producing significant contributions to the research used to justify its use and laying the groundwork for its successful implementation.

With cooperative learning, small groups work together in the classroom, assuming assigned roles and taking on individual responsibility for their contributions in solving a problem or tackling an assignment, using one of the established activities discussed in more detail in the Instructional Practice section. Often, the group’s work is subsequently shared with the entire class.

Dr. Cuthrell said that education students learn as part of groups called teaching teams. “So we offer them the structure of how to work as a group while they’re with us before they actually go out and actively teach as a group, either small groups of children or a whole class,” she said. “The other reason is that we’ve found cooperative learning is more engaging in terms of students working through the concepts and problems together, forming ideas about how they would approach it.”

The reasons behind the strategy’s success can be found in its theoretical base (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998). Under social interdependence theory, members of a group will cooperate if their affiliation is positive. If they are interdependently connected, their success as a whole is directly impacted by individual contributions. The framework for cooperative learning requires the presence of five factors to be productive: positive interdependence (group dependence upon one another), individual accountability (responsible for individual work), promotive interaction (supportive behavior), social skills (leadership and communication), and group processing (feedback on group efforts).

Module Format

Each of the College STAR modules includes a concept map, giving readers an overview of a module's content. The concept maps show the links between the instructional practice in the module, possible outcomes, and the principles of Universal Design for Learning, known as UDL.

Figure 1, the concept map shown below, illustrates the instructional practice in this module, which is about cooperative learning.

Research has shown that students benefit academically and personally by participating in cooperative learning activities. These gains include: higher-student achievement, increased productivity, higher-level reasoning, transfer of knowledge, heightened self-confidence, increased independence, and increased autonomy.

Clicking on the concept map, Figure 1, will enlarge the image.

Concept Map: Student Benefits from Cooperative Learning

Module Navigation

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Figure 2: A "breadcrumb trail" is located below the title of each page. A "breadcrumb trail" is located below the title of each page.

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