Cooperative and Project-Based Learning

Cooperative and Project-Based Learning

Cooperative and project-based learning share many similarities and only a few differences. They are typically done in small, heterogeneous group settings. Each member of the group will have an individual task that he/she need to accomplish. Group members work collaboratively and depend on each other to solve real world problems. In the end they will either ‘sink or swim’ as a group.

The main difference between these two theories is that project-based learning always ends with a final product. In addition, students in project-based activities occasionally have the option to work alone when they want to study a problem other groups are not interested in. Despite their differences, both theories are highly spoken of in the educational community and are commonly referred to as best practices.

Cooperative and Project-Based Learning

Strengths Weaknesses
Improve social skills Untrained students lead to conflicts among group members
Create independent thinkers Scaffolding is a must or students become frustrated and confused
Encourage critical thinking
Increase academic acheivement
Hands-on activities
Solve real world problems

Since cooperative and project-based learning lessons are closely related, they can easily be intertwined into one activity. This interdisciplinary, student-centered activity takes place at a city park and pond (Khalid, 2010, p. 29-30). Students will use digital cameras to take pictures of problems they see as they walk around and inspect the site. Each group member is assigned a role such as note taker, camera operator, task manager, and direction reader. One child, the task manager, will receive a checklist that will help guide students through the activity. After students visit the site and take pictures of potential problems, they will research the solutions and turn their work into a visual presentation. Each group will be responsible for sharing their final product regarding their environmental concerns with the local mayor and city council members.

Why should one use cooperative and project-based learning in instructional design?
The evidence is overwhelming; students learn best when they are trained to work together collaboratively and when adequate scaffolding is provided. Cooperative and project-based learning are clearly linked to academic achievement, critical thinking, and the development of social skills which is why it should be incorporated into instructional design. Through cooperative and project-based learning activities students learn to work collaboratively and, in turn, maximize each other’s learning (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993 as cited in Jenkins et al., p.279). Teachers should include these theories into their classrooms to prepare students for the future.

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Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (1994). What makes cooperative learning groups work? Retrieved from The Cooperative Learning Center at The University of Minnesota website:

Khalid, T. (2010). An integrated inquiry activity in an elementary teaching methods classroom. Science Activities, 47(1), 29-34. doi:10.1080/00368120903274019

Prince, M. & Felder, R. (2007). The many faces of inductive teaching and learning: This study examines the effectiveness and implementation of different inductive teaching methods, including inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, case-based teaching, discovery learning, and just-in-time teaching. Journal of College Science Teaching, 36(5), 14. Retrieved from

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