Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Social Learning Theory and Cooperative Learning

Social learning theories basically state the learners create their own understanding through social learning experiences with others and creating artifacts that demonstrate learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). One way to incorporate social learning experiences in a classroom is through cooperative learning. Cooperative learning is where students interact with each other in such a way that they obtain more knowledge working with each other than on their own (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007). Along with cooperative learning is collaboration. The difference between these two social learning strategies is that in cooperative learning, each students is responsible for group work and individual contribution to the group. In collaboration, students just work for the group (Orey, 2001). With either strategy, students fundamentally have an opportunity to work with each other in social learning communities.

I believe when students work in cooperative learning groups, they are more able to process and understand information. By working together, students are able to use each other’s talents and brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other. It goes back to the old saying, “Two heads are better than one.” I completely believe cooperative learning exemplifies this. I group my students into pods and they often reflection, discuss, and work with each other throughout the day in their pods or in partners. With technology, students are now able to cooperate with individuals outside of their classroom. Students can talk to people all around the world with free digital tools such as Skype. I also love the idea of keypals and giving students the opportunity to work with and get to know others around the world. What a powerful way for students to begin to see how we are truly a world community. Even within the classroom, students can use digital tools, such as Google Docs, to create projects together, but not necessarily on the same computer or at the same time. There are dozens of ways students can be part of an online cooperative environment. These are just some ways in which cooperative learning can incorporate social learning into the classroom.

-Jill Morris


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


  1. Interesting post. Cooperative learning is a tricky technique. If done incorrectly only one person does anything in the group. If done correctly, I think that cooperative learning is even better than "2 heads can think better than 1"; I believe this because of the intangibles like communication, problem solving and interpersonal skills that are brought into the activity that would otherwise be nonexistent. How do you like incorporating this strategy into your class?

  2. Thank you for the comment Nick! I completely agree that cooperative learning can be tricky. One way I try to prevent only one person doing the work in a cooperative learning group is to assign roles. One may be the writer, one may be the task monitor, one may be the researcher, one may be the reporter, one may be the materials getter, etc. I have found this extremely helpful to keeping cooperative learning a positive experience for all of my students. Of course, there are always those few students that just do not do well in social groups. I strive to have these students be involved as much as possible too; however, I refuse to allow one student drag the entire group down. In the past, I have had to take students who refuse to cooperate out of groups and give them an independent assignment instead. This assignment is usually not very fun and more challenging. This way students won't try to opt out of their group for one reason or another. This is a rare student though and I generally can keep positive cooperative learning environments with specific expectations (ie a behavior rubric) , student roles, and a lot of teacher monitoring and encouragement. I give a lot of positive rewards, such as group points and tickets that the students love to have (even at 6th grade). I find when I slack on my monitoring part of cooperative learning, that is when it all falls apart. This just shows how important a teacher's role is during this process.


  3. Jill

    You have a lot of great ideas for doing cooperative learning groups. I have done some cooperative group work but with third and fourth graders, I find it challenging at times. My problem, I think is that I don't explain it well enough and I don't normally assign jobs. With having such young groups, I think it might take an extremely large amount of time explaining it. So I tend to shy away from really challenging tasks for the groups to work on and just give them small steps at a time to complete. For example, I will write their tasks on the board for each day. Then among the group members, they work on the specific tasks together. It hasn't worked out bad but I would like it to be even more effective and challenging for them. Any ideas would be appreciated.

    Crystal Moyer

  4. I think you have some great steps to having a social learning environment in your classroom. It is not always easy and I know I have taught some years that the benefits of social groups did not out way the negative social behaviors. Thus, I ended up not doing as much grouping. On a personal level, I have little tolerance for excessive noise or inappropriate behavior. Seriously, sometimes I feel like the meanest teacher in the world, but too much noise drives me crazy. I am constantly battling learning noise with non-learning noise. On a daily basis I try to find my happy medium. I think last year was my breaking point. I had 34 students in my class and no matter what I did, it seemed to be noisy (if not talking noise, movement noise). I realized at that point I had to let go a bit and intervene when it was obvious that learning was not happening. I am definitely not an expert and there are days I have a shorter fuse than others. I do find that with specific roles and specific expectations that are revisited on a daily (sometimes several times a day) basis, cooperative learning is more successful. However, just like it said in our reading, we should not always use this strategy. I still have students do independent work too. I try to create several different kinds of working situations throughout a day to meet the individual learning needs of each of my students.

    If I were you, I would start small. Try something like students checking their homework with each other. I started this strategy last year and love it. Not only does it keep students accountable, but it gives students important feedback without the teacher having to correct every piece of homework. Plus, it takes a lot less time then going over each homework problem as a class. What I usually do is have groups go over their homework together and each team member is responsible to make sure everyone understands the work. If a group disagrees with an answer, they go to another group to see what they got for an answer. Then if there is still an issue, they go to the answer key. If they do not understand the answer key's answer, then they go to me. This helps them be independent as a group and allows me to monitor behavior and make sure students are on task. This also allows me to take attendance and do the administration stuff while the students are engaged in their cooperative learning groups. After a few minutes, I see if there are any questions and go over any issues as a class. It sounds like a long process, but it usually takes 5-10 minutes to do this. This is just one suggestion of a place to start. Good luck!