Collaborative and Cooperative Learning in Drama Education

Of all the subjects on the school curriculum, drama perhaps relies the heaviest on the successful output of group work. From simple rehearsed improvisations to full-length play performances, collaboration and cooperation between classmates in any acting or theatre course is vital.

But what exactly is collaborative learning? Is it the same as cooperative learning? Can these two terms be used interchangeably in education to mean much the same thing. If not, then how do these two types of learning differ? Is one of these a higher form of learning than the other? Can one cooperate without collaborating, or vice-versa?


Unfortunately, scholars do not always agree on concepts, and the differences between collaborative and cooperative learning is one of those areas. Regardless of contradictions, all teachers of drama and theatre need to have a firm grasp of these forms of learning in order to better understand the teaching and learning process in their classroom and improve their teaching, where possible.

Smith and MacGregor (1992) describe collaborative learning as an “umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual efforts by students” where learning events “mostly center on students’ exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it”.

Panitz (1996) argues in collaborative learning “there is a sharing of authority and acceptance of responsibility among group members for the group’s actions. The underlying premise of collaborative learning is based upon consensus building through cooperation by group members”.

LeJeune (2003) claims the main features of collaborative learning are a common task or activity; small group learning; cooperative behaviour; interdependence and individual responsibility and accountability.

Dillenbourg (1999) argues collaborative learning involves the vertical division of tasks within a group, having the group work on a number of tasks almost simultaneously.

Panitz (1996) claims cooperative learning is different to collaborative learning because “it is more directive than a collaborative system of governance and closely controlled by the teacher”.

Felder and Brent (2007) agree with Panitz, saying cooperative learning “refers to students working in teams on an assignment or project under conditions in which certain criteria are satisfied”.

Johnson, Jonson and Smith (2014) state cooperative learning is the “instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning”. The authors divide cooperative learning into formal and informal, with formal cooperative learning being highly structured group learning, while informal cooperative learning being more ad-hoc group activities.

Smith and MacGregor (1992) and Curtin University (n.d.) claim cooperative learning involves the opposite to Dillenbourg’s collaborative learning argument, where students divide tasks horizontally within the group, working on different aspects of a task almost concurrently.

Based on these definitions, teachers of drama can determine whether collaborative or cooperative learning is occurring in their classroom, or both? Take a senior drama ensemble rehearsal, for example, where one group may be dividing tasks vertically, while another group is dividing tasks horizontally, and a third group is doing a combination of both at the one time. This can all be occurring in a single classroom. If, as drama teachers, we are informed of the characteristics of collaborative and cooperative learning, we can create meaningful group tasks for our students with purpose.

2 Responses

  1. Justin Cash says:

    Thanks Charlotte. You raise some very interesting points, yourself. Thanks for sharing. – Justin

  2. Charlotte says:

    Fantastic commentary on the place of collaborative and cooperative learning in Drama Education. I was unaware of the terms vertical division and horizontal division to define the breaking up of tasks as collaborative or cooperative within an educational drama group. The comparing of the differing scholars research was interesting to compare to my practical experience in the classroom. As a drama specialist who works in a school, I find that the students who work through a combination of both vertical division and horizontal division tend to achieve their goals at a faster pace. As an adult though I, personally prefer working in collaborative learning space as an adult which has translated from my own drama studies at school.

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