Article 5. Group, Collaborative & Cooperative Learning Spaces

Cooperative learning environments for the 21st century

I have read some great stuff on learning spaces today! Specifically the benefits and pitfalls of all manner of co-operative, collaborative and group spaces that we as educators use…but do we use them effectively?

My rather un-eloquent summary is  that it’s SO exciting to know how positive and important cooperative learning spaces can be for today’s learners, however it’s SO scary to know we are probably/maybe doing it all wrong.

Here is an excerpt from the article: Cooperative learning: what makes group-work work? (Slavin, 2010).

“Learning environments for the 21st century must be ones in which students
are actively engaged with learning tasks and with each other. Today,
teachers are in competition with television, computer games, and all sorts of
engaging technology, and the expectation that children will learn passively
is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Co-operative learning offers a proven,
practical means of creating exciting social and engaging classroom environments
to help students to master traditional skills and knowledge as well as
develop the creative and interactive skills needed in today’s economy and
society. Co-operative learning itself is being reshaped for the 21st century,
particularly in partnership with developments in technology.
Co-operative learning has established itself as a practical alternative to
traditional teaching, and has proven its effectiveness in hundreds of studies
throughout the world. Surveys find that a substantial proportion of teachers
claim to use it regularly (e.g. Puma, Jones, Rock and Fernandez, 1993). Yet
observational studies (e.g. Antil, Jenkins, Wayne and Vadasy, 1998) find
that most use of co-operative learning is informal, and does not incorporate
the group goals and individual accountability that research has identified
to be essential. Clearly, co-operative learning can be a powerful strategy
for increasing student achievement, but fulfilling this potential depends on
the provision of professional development for teachers that is focused on the
approaches most likely to make a difference.”


Does ‘Group Work’, Work?

Today let’s consider group, collaborative and cooperative spaces. Are they the same thing? Do we know how to use them? And does the design and feel of a space matter?

As education moves beyond the traditional classroom, consideration needs to be given to learning spaces of now and the future.

Cynthia Scott from UNESCO Research says collaboration-based learning is a significant trend in education where students learn vital skills for the twenty-first century world (2015). However, “having students work in groups can be enormously beneficial or it can be of little value. How can teachers make best use of this powerful tool?” (Slavin, 2010, p. 162). Professional development for teachers is vital. There is a huge difference between group work and collaborative and cooperative learning. When we appreciate the difference, design spaces around this and implement well, learning and teaching is critically enhanced.

In group work students are asked to work together without specific roles. With little reason for higher achievers to involve others less able or interested, (Slavin, 2010, p. 170) “some will take over, some will take a free ride, and some will get the grade of the work of others. Group work is unrealistic and doesn’t work.” (Kagan, Tvoparents, 2010).

Conversely, collaborative and cooperative learning is decidedly valuable, providing students with rich opportunity to engage and learn together. Collaborative work can be more informal, with students sharing ideas depending on their strengths and expertise. I feel collaborative learning is what we do in my uni course (EDFD459 Learning Spaces), where a group of people share, contribute and learn in a common forum via a community of practice (Smith, 2003/2009).

According to Slavin, cooperative learning benefits all types of students, with better results for all and improved self-esteem and focus. Students work together in groups selected by the teacher, towards a common goal (Shanahan, 2015). Careful structure ensures each student is accountable for and assessed on their own contribution (Kagan, 2010). The goal is to all learn something rather than to ‘do’ something (Slavin, 2010), which creates an attitude where students are motivated to help one another learn.

The design and feel of spaces can enhance or disadvantage learning (Biddick, 2014). Today’s learning spaces need to offer flexibility so that effective cooperative learning alongside traditional teaching can happen; students at desks focused on the teacher, large and small group spaces, independent spaces, digital, hands on and outside spaces. Jane Merewether explains “outside experiences not only improve academic performance, but also physical activity levels, social interactions and emotional wellbeing.” (Merewether, 2015, p. 100). Even in inner-city Melbourne, the vertical design for Prahran High School includes rooftop garden, running track, terrace balconies and an open atrium (Cook, 2017).

Well designed and implemented peer-based learning shows overwhelmingly positive results. Teachers need to grasp this to be responsible modern educators.

Remember, look through an admiring lens!



Biddick, N. B. (2014). Working in open plan learning spaces. Teacher Learning Network Newsletter21(1), 23-25.

Cook, H. (2017) Education Editor, The Age. Going High on High Street, Prahran with $25m vertical school to hit the heights

Kagan, S. (2010). TVOparents Does ‘Group Work’ Work? Is It the Best Way for Children to Learn? Retrieved from:

Merewether, J. (2015). Young children’s perspectives of outdoor learning spaces: What matters? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(1), 99-108.

Penn State University. (2017). Retrieved from

Scott, C. L. (2015). The Futures of Learning 3: What kind of pedagogies for the 21st century? UNESCO Education Research and Foresight, Paris. (ERF Working Papers Series, No. 15).

Shanahan, K. (2015). Educator Hotspot. Retrieved from

Slavin, R. (2010). Co-operative learning: what makes group-work work? (pp. 161 – 178). In The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing.

Smith, M. (2003/2009). Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s