What is cooperative learning?
Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject.
There is a difference between group work and cooperative learning.
In cooperative learning the teacher assigns each student in the group a role. Kagan uses the acronym PIES.
There are a multitude of structures (strategies) for cooperative learning. It involves every student in the group and the task is not complete until each student performs their role. It holds all students accountable of the learning and prevents students from hiding in the background and letting the other group members complete the assignment. It requires all students to be part of the learning.
In group work students are placed in a group and even a task to complete. The students are in charge of organizing the group members and deciding whom does what. This allows students with strong leadership skills to take over and do most of the work. In cooperative groups the teacher assigns each student a role in the activity preventing students from taking over or not doing anything. Cooperative learning encourages students to learn to work together while everyone in the group learns the content.
If you are interested in learning more about cooperative learning or how to implement it effectively I highly recommend checking out Kagan.
Alexander, P. (2006). Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.