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New landscape for education: cooperative learning in distance learning

“Eventually, the dinosaurs went extinct, precisely because they failed to adapt to their new environment. They failed to evolve. But out of their extinction, Homo sapiens was born”

Tommaso Minerva, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia – Italy

With the rapid advancement of remote learning, the education community is experiencing a learning ecosystem made of an interconnected set of tools and services that work together to drive student success.

Traditional approaches cannot keep pace with the digital evolution – accelerated by the pandemic all around the world. We need to evolve, and work on the best way to operate educational processes, with all the tools (traditional and non-traditional) that can serve the scope.

In this way, education technology may hold some of the answers to how learners and educators can become better equipped to solve the global challenges we are facing. 

Cooperative Learning in distance learning

“Unlike individual learning, people engaged in collaborative learning capitalize on one another’s resources and skills.” (Neha Bishnoi, Collaborative learning: A learning tool advantages and disadvantages Indian Journal of Health and Well-being, School of Education, Central University of Haryana, Mahendergarh, Haryana, 2017) 

The Cooperative model (Johnson and Johnson, 1989) incorporates five essential elements: positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face promotive interaction, social skills, and group processing. When these elements are structured carefully into the instructional format, improved student  participation, motivation, and responsibility have been noted (Assinder, 1991). The student-centered approach of Cooperative Learning leads to learner autonomy. The positive impact of Cooperative Learning has far-reaching effects that extend beyond the classroom, into participants’ professional and personal lives. 

One of the many flexible cooperative learning techniques is Everyone Can Explain (Jacobs & Renandya, 2019), in which groups do tasks or respond to questions, they check that all group members can explain what they have done and why, and then one group member is chosen at random to present their group’s explanation. 

Incorporating the elements of Cooperative Learning in distance learning is effective, for instance, through structured synchronous and asynchronous group discussions (Cox and Cox, 2008) to attain the goal of positive interdependence, individual accountability, and group processing, while interactive tools are efficient ways to promote interaction and social skills. 

With the rapid increase of and demand for online education, it becomes imperative to incorporate feasible instructional strategies and formats proven to be successful in traditional educational settings. In fact, cooperative learning has been found to result in higher achievement among students when compared to individualistic and competitive learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Johnson et al., 2000).

Why Use Collaborative Learning?

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

  • Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
  • Promotion of student-faculty interaction.
  • Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
  • Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
  • Preparation for real-life social and employment situations.

Getting Started with Collaborative Learning

Shorter online collaborative learning activities generally involve a three-step process. This process can be as short as five minutes but can be longer, depending on the task at hand.

  • Introduce the task. This can be as simple as instructing students to turn to their peers to discuss or debate a topic.
  • Provide students with enough time to engage with the task. Walk around and address any questions as needed.
  • Debrief. Ask a few students to share a summary of their conclusions. Address any misconceptions or clarify any confusing points. Open the floor for questions.

In order to ensure that even the most tested of classroom sessions run smoothly with the new technological tools and times, here you find some specific suggestions for fostering individual accountability: 

  1. Distribute materials before class so that students can follow the class easily
  2. Keep group size small to make it easier for everyone to know what everyone in the group is doing. 
  3. Communicate the learning outcomes for the session, how the session will progress and the activities your students will do.
  4. Use turn taking. While some group members may have a tendency to do less than their fair share, others may do more. Turn taking, maybe even using tech tools to measure the length of turns in words or time, makes that less likely. 
  5. Make a roster stating what everyone will do and by when they will do it. These rosters can be shared with the teacher. Of course, rosters need to be flexible. 
  6. Have regular discussions about how well the groups are functioning. ICT tools can provide evidence to use in these discussions. 
  7. Divide roles and resources to make it more obvious that everyone needs to contribute. 
  8. Conduct self-reflection and peer-assessment. Learners are encouraged to think about their contribution to the success of collaborative work. They can also assess their peers’ contribution to their group work.
  9. After class, email students asking if they have any questions and offering to set up a short call if they need it or email you their questions.


There are also platforms and software that teachers and educators may use to implement collaborative learning approach in distance learning fostering individual accountability, a bedrock of cooperation. 

These tools mix productivity and creativity, getting students to share and collaborate on projects, give and take feedback, annotate, brainstorm, make media, or just hang out. Here you find a list of main tools used so far.

Different software allows different modes of communication, synchronous – asynchronous, and voice – text – video chats, all of which support cooperative learning.

Tips: to really convince students that collaboration is the main way to learn via distance, they need to engage in tasks that call on them to deploy a range of thinking skills, and just as students will often benefit from teacher guidance in developing their collaborative skills.

For the next Erasmus + call, we are working on these topics. If you want to be our partner or have a proposal to be developed, get in touch.

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