Why has cooperative learning been confused at times to mean that students are working in a group rather than working as a group on an assignment?

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Cooperative learning is often associated to scaffolding and constructivism, because the major proponents of cooperative learning use this intervention to promote such schema-building processes. One of the most well-known proponents is Lev Vygotsky.

 In all, the confusion comes when we assume that cooperative learning is used for ONE student to help another student as it is done in PEER learning, which is different altogether, and not to be applied for all things. Some teaching professionals assume that Vygotsky's proposals are to be used for individual growth and learning, and not for collective growth and learning. 

Let's look at an example: Vygotsky proposed using peer learning through MKOs (most knowledgeable others) as partners for students who know less. This means that he suggests that students are mixed together in a group, combining those who know more and those who know less together. The idea is that this combination of knowledge will bring the student's knowledge level to a ZPD (zone of proximal development). What the ZPD entails is that the students who knew less now know more thanks to the intervention of the MKOs but, at the same time, the MKOs would have applied their knowledge in teaching the students who know less. As a result, the MKOs would have also increased their own ZPD.

However, peer learning is when two students help each other in a specific task or to acquire a specific skills. Since the reality is that not always we are divided into a dyad, cooperative learning replaces the dyad by, instead, inviting the student to become part of a greater thing; a bigger group of students who discuss and analyze a specific thing.

Coop learning includes: 

  • STADs- Student teams and achievement discussions
  • JIGSAW- each student is part of the whole and plays a specific role in a project.
  • RAFT- Role/Audience/Format/Topic projects
  • Debates- political, religious, social, etc.
  • Formal, Informal, and Cooperative-Based
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