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Traditional vs. Cooperative Learning Groups
Adapted with permission from Johnson, Hohnson & Holubec's Circles of Learning


Low interdependence

High positive interdependence

Member takes responsibility only for self Members are reponsible for own and each other's learning
Focus is on individual performance only Focus is on joint performance

Individual accountability only

Both group and individual accountability

Members hold self and others accountable for high quality work

Assignments are discussed with little commitment to each other's learning Members promote each other's success doing real work together, helping and supporting one another's efforts to learn

Teamwork skills are not directly taught Teamwork skills are emphasized
A leader is appointed to direct members' participation

Members are taught and expected to use social skills

Leadership is shared by all members

No group processing of the quality of its work Group processes quality of work and how effectively members are working together
Individual accomplishments are rewarded Continuous improvement is emphasized



Have a fixed membership, lasting for several days to several weeks

Are ad hoc and last for one discussion or class period

Have a well-defined task to accomplish

Focus on material to be learned: help to organize in advance the material to be covered during a class session, make sure students cognitively process the material that is being taught

May be structured for learning information, concepts, probem solving or composition, in addition to the targeted social skill Provide closure to a class session.These groups are ideal to make sure there is correct understanding of material and to fill in any gaps that may exist. These can be used any time but are great lecture enhancers


1. Should participants be placed in learning groups that are homogeneous or heterogeneous in member ability?

Homogeneity can be used to create experts on a given topic or lesson. Homogeneous member- ship is used to master specific skills or to achieve certain instructional objectives.

Generally, heterogeneous groups are most conducive for elaborate thinking, more frequent giving and receiving of explanations, and wider perspective in discussing materials. All of these increase the depth of understanding, the quality of reasoning, and the accuracy of long-term retention.

2. Should non task-oriented students be placed in learning groups with task- oriented peers or be separated?

Keeping non academically-oriented students on task is facilitated by placing them in cooperative learning groups with task-oriented peers. This is due in part to the components of group account- ability and positive interdependence.

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