Critique of Cooperative Learning Written by Palmer, Peters, and Streetman

Yu-hsuan Huang
Indiana University in Bloomington


This critique is analyzing one chapter of Dr. Michael Orey’s wikibook, Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. The chapter is “Cooperative Learning,” and the authors are Guinevere Palmer, Rachel Peters and Rebecca Streetman. My critique will based on following topics in the chapter: (1) Definition and Background, (2) Theoretical Framework for Cooperative Learning, (3) Collaborative vs. Cooperative Learning, (4) Implementation of Cooperative Learning, (5) Benefits of Cooperative Learning.

Chapter Content

The chapter begins with a scenario in a 9th grade Careers course. By using the situation the instructor faces, the authors introduce the methodology, Cooperative Learning, to readers. Cooperative learning can be view as a methodology which utilizes ideas of Vygotsky, Piaget, and Kohlberg in both individual and social setting. It is defined as students working together to "attain group goals that cannot be obtained by working alone or competitively" (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1986). In other words, students must discover knowledge and transform it into concepts to which they can relate through new learning experiences. Most important, using cooperative learning, students learn through dialogs with other students in a social setting.
Though collaborative learning is sometimes used interchangeably with cooperative learning, there are some subtle and not do subtle similarities and differences between these two methodologies. For instance, both of the two learning approaches emphasize discovery approaches, student’s dialogs, and the use of groups for learning, assigning specific tasks, and requiring students to share and compare their findings. However, apparently, collaborative learning has British roots, whereas cooperative learning is of American origin. Some argue that cooperative learning is a more specific kind of collaborative learning. Others argue that cooperative learning is when students help each other learn the same material, whereas collaborative learning involves students using their individual expertise or areas of strength to produce a joint product.
As for cooperative learning’s operating process, the authors list three key phases for the proper implementation of cooperative learning; (a) pre-implementation phase which includes: specifying instructional objectives, determining group sizes and assigning students to groups, arranging the room, planning instructional materials to promote interdependence, assigning group roles, assigning tasks, explaining criteria for success, structuring positive interdependence and accountability, and specifying desired behaviors; (b) implementation which includes: monitoring behavior, intervening if needed, assisting with needs, and praise; (c) post-implementation which includes: providing closure through summarization, evaluating students' learning, and reflecting on what happened. Since Ted Panitz (1996) lists over 50 benefits related to cooperative learning. In the chapter, the authors summarize these benefits into four major categories: (1) social, (2) psychological, (3) academic, and (4) assessment. At the end of the chapter, the authors get back to the scenario, illustrating how Mrs. Solomon, the instructor, can apply this methodology to her class and what are the benefits.

Some Chapter Concerns or Weaknesses

In my opinion, the title of this chapter is clear, but it may not be appropriate for the content included in this chapter. The authors tend to emphasize on the implementation of cooperative learning for over half of the chapter and ignore other factors related to this methodology. Nevertheless, the authors’ statements are quite clear and objectively stated. Most importantly; they cite extensive resources to support their ideas and all the quotes and citations are properly stated. However, the section regarding the theoretical framework for cooperative learning seems underemphasized. In addition, the structure of cooperative learning could be subdivided more. For instance, except for the two types of theoretical perspectives of cooperative learning (i.e., cognitive and motivational), there could be other types and frameworks mentioned, including behavioral and social interdependence. Furthermore, the structure of cooperative learning that they present seems too general. The authors could categorize the structure as basic and advanced, and then further divided them into detailed items like pair-share, split-class discussion, structured-problem solving, etc. Moreover, last but not least, the authors never mentioned whether there is only one type of cooperative learning or if there could be other types; such as formal or informal, basic or advanced. That is to say, the third (the theoretical framework for cooperative learning) and fifth (the structure of cooperative learning) sections of this chapter could be significantly expanded.
To delve deeper into the content of this chapter, the authors apparently answer full-spectrum questions related to the topic of cooperative learning. Issues such as what field of courses is cooperative learning suitable for, what level’s of learners is cooperative learning appropriate for, what kind of course content and environment is cooperative learning suitable for are included in the chapter. However, the authors seem to narrow their focus on the theoretical content; instead, there should also be more discussion or statements related to cooperative learning’s applications and examples. Accordingly, the authors do integrate information from various sources-text book and articles in the chapter content. In terms of the applying ideas, by using cooperative learning some significant problems can be solved: the effects on students’ achievement will be consistently positive; different ethnic groups’ relation could be improved; and relationships between mainstreaming students with learning disabilities and other students could be significantly improved.


In conclusion, from this chapter I learned** the general idea about cooperative learning. For instance, by working in small heterogeneous groups (of four or five students total) and by helping one another master the various aspects of a particular task, students will be more motivated to learn, will learn more than if they had to work independently, and will forge stronger interpersonal relationships than they would by working alone. In addition, I also learned the two theoretical frameworks related to cooperative learning and some key structures of cooperative learning, and the most impressive part, the implementation of cooperative learning. After reading this wikibook chapter, I soon realized that there are such a variety of interesting, effective in-class activities to help increase students’ motivation and participation. In passing, I think using an explicit scenario to articulate section and section is very convincing and friendly. Just like Mrs. Solomon, I feel that I have a whole new perspective on classroom strategies.