Cooperative Learning

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Empowerment equips participants with the competences for gaining collective impact with other people. Cooperative learning as an approach supports this by shaping learning through group interaction.

A lot of cooperative learning literature is limiting such an educational practice to forms of group work, mostly not including the facilitator as a relevant subject of cooperative practice. In democratic citizenship education facilitators and teachers are an additional part of the game and the relations and interaction within the learning space have as well to be more cooperatively.

"Co-operative learning does not simply mean that learners work in pairs or groups in the classroom with little regard to the actual interactions that take place within these groups."[1]

We applied Johnson and Johnsons model of cooperative learning in a way that it fits to the requirements of non-formal education.[2] The role of facilitators and teachers changes with the increase of a participatory learning culture with its paradigm of dynamic negotiative facilitation before and during learning activities. In contrast, learning arrangements in formal contexts in schools and universities follow stronger the more traditional paradigm of instructive teaching.

Cooperative learning is influenced by two factors: the role of the facilitator and the formality of the learning arrangement with its specific rules, assessment criteria, determination of content and goals. These conditions are for any learning arrangement specific and how to facilitate cooperative learning depends as well from the structural determinations of the schools, initiatives or organizations. Beyond all differences Johnson and Johnson show, that in any setting the same five basic elements of cooperation are relevant and need to be facilitated in a way, that fits into the concrete context.

Basic Elements of Cooperation

Positive interdependence

Positive interdependence happens "when group members perceive that they are linked with each other in a way that one cannot succeed unless everybody succeeds."

Individual and Group Accountability

Empowerment as giving power inherits giving accountability. This implies the accountability towards the other group members as well as the accountability of the whole group for approaching the collaboration goals.

Promotive Interaction

"Promotive interaction occurs when members share resources and help." This includes skills for showing trust, raising empathy, and mobilizing solidarity.

Interpersonal and Group Skills

"Group members must know how to provide effective leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict management, and be motivated to use the prerequisite skills." While promotive interaction is more referring on the development of a group-compatible attitude, these skills are mainly management skills for communication and team-dynamics.

Group Processing

"Group processing exists when group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships." Therefore the members need the resource management skills i.e. time management, workload management, reflecting and shaping the functional aspects of team organization.

Source: After Johnsons and Johnson [2]

Styles of Cooperative Learning

Formal Cooperative Learning

Participants achieve shared learning goals and complete jointly specific tasks and assignments.

Role of a Facilitator

  • Facilitator/teacher has a pre-instructional role
  • Decisionmaking on goals, group size, methods, role of the participants, space and materials


  • Facilitator bring closure to the session
  • Assess the achievements
  • Moderate evaluation through the participants and provide the evaluation criteria
  • Ensure that students make plans for improvement
  • Make sure that students celebrate their successes

Informal Cooperative Learning

Participants work together to achieve a joint goal in temporary groups and co-decide over the methods, content and goals.

Role of a Facilitator

  • Facilitators are shifting between a supportive and an instructional role
  • Addressing the intrinsic motivation and the self-responsibility for the whole process
  • Focusing attention on the subject and its relevance
  • Setting different expectations and goals in relation and help tthe participants to form from it useful goals
  • Moderating a joint decisionmaking over the concrete tasks and an agreement over the intended outcome


  • Independently from the facilitator the students summarize their learning outcome.
  • Facilitator shapes a space, in which they transfer the outcome into the conceptual framework.
  • Facilitator assesses how well students understood the task and content, and how they assessed their interests and needs.
  • Facilitator proposes a follow-up, how to proceed with the learning outcomes.

Cooperative Base Groups, Initiatives

Groups and initiatives often with diverse backgrounds work over a longer period of time collaboratively.

Role of a Facilitator

  • Facilitators have a mainly supportive role, members practicize self-empowerment
  • They offer skill-training how to shape group processes and relationships, communication skills, organizing teamwork, ensuring accountability
  • They shape a supportive learning environment and schedule
  • They may introduce supportive accompanying instruments like coaching or mentoring


  • Facilitators shape opportunities for in-between reflection and (re-)adjustments of mission, teams, resources
  • Facilitation of a collaborative evaluation with a joint identification of success criteria
  • Facilitators address the further perspectives including an open discussion of the different opportunities for the further collaboration


  1. P. Mompoint-Gilard, I. Lázár (Ed.): TASKs for democracy - 60 activities to learn and assess transversal attitudes, skills and knowledge; Council of Europe Pestalozzi Series No. 4; Strasbourg 2015; p.17
  2. 2.0 2.1 D. W. Johnsons, R. T. Johnson: An Overview Of Cooperative Learning

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email:


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