Cooperation vs. Collaboration

I recently objected to a colleague who was using “cooperate” and “collaborate” as synonyms. As I read the best thinkers about teaching and learning, I find the difference described in their writing about the differences makes sense and helps to to clarify my own thinking about what happens in classrooms (both mine and my colleagues’).

As I chatted with this colleague, she asked me to drawn the difference… here is what I drew (actually this is a digital version of what I drew).

cooperation and collaboration


Cooperation finds two (or more humans) sharing informations, but the purpose of the information sharing is individual. Each participant will be construction his or her own version, and he or she will apply it as they see fit to the current or future problems. Collaboration finds participants constructing commons knowledge and applying it to a single purpose.

The language used to describe this (and the location on the participants and the goal in meaningful for the differences to be clear. Cooperation finds the participants “on the same level;” each is entitled to the version of the information he or she creates. Collaboration find the participants under (or subsumed by, or incorporated into, or integrated into) knowledge or the product. Without the participants, their interaction, and the knowledge or purpose is fundamentally changed. Changing any part or participation produces a new collaboration, purpose, and product.

I am always grateful for colleagues who question and challenge me to say exactly what I mean.