Learners work together to create a joint product, cooperatively solve a problem, or co-construct their understanding of a topic.

Collaborative learning involves groups of learners working together to create a joint product, cooperatively solve a problem, or co-construct their understanding of a topic. The literature distinguishes between cooperative and collaborative learning, with cooperative learning involving a task that can be decomposed into individual independent subtasks and collaborative learning involving a task that must be completed as one shared group task (Cohen, 1994; Watkins et al., 2007). However, more often the two terms are used interchangeably and align with the latter definition. In truly collaborative contexts, learners believe that they can only achieve goals if others in the group also reach their goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). As a result, learners must support one another’s learning by explaining, examining, and reconciling their multiple perspectives through conversation, as well as by giving help to and seeking help from peers (Watkins et al., 2007). Collaborative learning is an alternative to competitive learning, where students believe that they can obtain their goals only if others fail, and individualistic learning, where students believe that the achievement of their goals is unrelated to others’ achievement (Johnson et al., 1991).

Collaboration Look Fors


Learners working in groups have essential and complementary roles that allow them to make progress towards a shared goal on a group-worthy task.


Learners working in groups engage fully in learning activities and do not rely on others to do the hard work for them, ensuring everyone individually achieves learning objectives.


Learners working in groups deploy the social awareness and interpersonal skills needed to successfully collaborate, including the abilities to empathize, listen actively, relate across lines of difference, communicate respectfully and clearly, resolve conflicts, and both seek and offer help when appropriate.


Learners working in groups support and build off of one another’s thinking to deepen engagement with the activities and enhance understanding of the related content and skills.


Learners reflect on group work, describe group member actions that were helpful and unhelpful to maintaining effective working relationships and achieving goals, and make logical decisions about what to continue or change.

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This guide was created by Lindsay Unified School District and The Learning Accelerator, building on the work produced through a previous partnership between Lindsay Unified School District, Summit Public Schools, and Transcend. Learn more about the partnership.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.