I came across some very interesting articles around collaboration and cooperation in learning. Formally defined, cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes which help people interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal or develop an end product which is usually content specific while (Panitz, 1996). Collaborative learning is defined as a personal philosophy where learners take shared responsibility for their learning goals. In the former, the instructor is at the centre of the learning process, driving the outcomes by a series of structured steps, while in the latter, the learner is at the centre and the instructor guides and facilitates.
The techniques used in both may be similar but it is the way they are applied or arranged that is different. Collaborative learning principles stem from social constructivism. Social constructivism argues that the most optimal learning environment is one where a dynamic interaction between instructors, learners and tasks provides an opportunity for learners to create their own truth due to the interaction with others and the world. Social constructivism thus emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what is happening in society and the world, and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Derry 1999; McMahon 1997).
Panitz puts it in a nutshell – “Everyone is an active learner and teacher through collaboration, shared responsibility and mutual respect”.
There are however various issues that are faced (from both teachers and students) – I would believe most arise from the inability or resistance to change coming from an entrenched background. For example, I would find it very difficult to assume that a student in one of our Indian schools would be able to transition from a passive receptacle to an active contributor or that the instructor would divest his/her authority and give autonomy (and the respect that they can do it) to the learners.