The last few years have seen massive changes in how undergraduate and postgraduate courses are delivered. It is now expected that much, or perhaps all, of the course content will be made available online. This change to online Web-based forms of delivery would seem to provide the ideal circumstances for non-traditional methods of teaching and learning to be re-examined. Online collaborative and cooperative learning techniques are not widely practiced in undergraduate tertiary education, despite their many widely recognized advantages – see for example Panitz (2000). However, interest in such techniques is increasing, as evidenced by the biennial Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) conferences and recent books on the topic by Barkley, Cross, & Major (2003) and Roberts (2003, 2004). An examination of the literature suggests that some authors writing about online collaborative learning are actually writing about online cooperative learning, and vice versa. This conflation of terms can make research results hard to assess. It, therefore, seems important to attempt to ascertain the similarities and differences between the two, so that theoretical and empirical research into their application in an online environment can be properly carried out and assessed.
Traditional learning comes in a variety of forms, and, therefore, cannot be easily characterized. However, common to most forms of traditional learning is the idea of the sage on the stage, with information provided by the instructor during lectures, and the provision of printed course materials. The modes of learner interaction are, therefore, primarily learner-instructor and learner-content, with almost no learning taking place between the students themselves, at least as part of the formal learning process. (Figure 1)Top
Collaborative is an adjective that implies working in a group of two or more to achieve a common goal, while respecting each individual’s contribution to the whole.
Collaborative learning is a learning method that uses social interaction as a means of knowledge building (Paz Dennen, 2000).(Figure 2)
Bruffee (1999) states that:
(educators must)…trust students to perform in ways that the teacher has not necessarily determined ahead of time.
and further contends that:
…collaborative learning therefore implies that… (educators)… must rethink what they have to do to get ready to teach and what they are doing when they are actually teaching. (Bruffee, 1999)Top
The term cooperative is often used interchangeably with collaborative, but they literally have different meanings. Cooperative is an adjective meaning to work or act together as one to achieve a common goal, while tending to de-emphasize the input of particular individuals. (Figure 3)
Millis (1996) states that cooperative learning is a:
generic term used to describe a situation where students work together in small groups to help themselves and others to learn;
while Johnson and Johnson (2001) state that it: