Collaboration versus Cooperation

Cooperation = working together independently.

Collaboration = working together dependently.

Researchers such as Dillenbourg et al. (1996) and Roschelle and Teasley (1995) agree that it is important to make a distinction between cooperation and collaboration. While cooperative learning can be defined as “working together to accomplish shared goals” (Smith 1995), collaborative learning is “a method that implies working in a group of two or more to achieve a common goal, while respecting each individual’s contribution to the whole” (McInnerney and Robert 2004, 205). Roschelle and Teasley (1995) describe cooperative work as a task that is accomplished by dividing it among participants, where “each person is responsible for a portion of the problem solving,” and they see collaborative work as “the mutual engagement of participants in a coordinated effort to solve the problem together."

The key difference between these approaches to group work is that cooperation is more focused on working together to create an end product, while successful collaboration requires participants to share in the process of knowledge creation (Dillenbourg et al. 1996; Roschelle and Teasley 1995). In other words, cooperation can be achieved if all participants do their assigned parts separately and bring their results to the table; collaboration, in contrast, implies direct interaction among individuals to produce a product and involves negotiations, discussions, and accommodating others’ perspectives. According to Nelson (2008), cooperation is “a protocol that allows you not to get in each other’s way” as you work. He uses the example of an assembly line and reaches the conclusion that “a cooperative enterprise could in some way be done, as long as you had enough time or other resources, by a single person.”

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