Bild: Juha Mustanoja

In Sweden, we like working together, having meetings, creating groups for evaluation of group work and creating meetings for evaluation of meetings… This is exaggerating a bit – (and who am I to write this, as I have been living mostly in Finland for the last 30 years?!) – but I want to discuss an important word in this context: the word “samarbete”, which is synonymous to both cooperation AND collaboration. Thus, in Swedish we do both at the same time – cooperate and collaborate. But the two concepts are not identical. Both are important, vital, crucial to creative group work. Where do they differ, is one more elaborate than the other…? During this third topic, it has been interesting to find that there are no clear-cut definitions of what cooperation and collaboration actually mean – and how they are related.

In his sketchy video (, John Spencer very briskly shows that cooperation means mutual
respect, transparency, shared goals, independency and sharing ideas while
collaboration means mutual trust, vulnerability shared values, interdependency
and generating ideas. He argues that collaboration without cooperation causes
groupthink – on the other hand cooperation without collaboration causes
disunity. Together they are the basis for deeper work, more innovation and
better quality.

In the article Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. by Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. ( view/675/1271) the views of George Siemens are accounted for. According to him, there is a four-stage continuum in e-learning, going from communication via collaboration and cooperation to community. Collaboration obviously comes before cooperation. He defines collaboration as “people sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment” and cooperation as “people doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose”. Community being the “striving for a common purpose.”                                                                                            Hm. So how does this work… You work interdependently, sharing the same values and then you work independently with your own goal as a priority, and after that you all get together, forming your troop to aim at an agreed target, so to say. This is a bit confusing to me. This third topic – Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning – is intended to make us reflect upon our experiences of real collaborative learning, because this type of learning probably is more creative and beneficial to our development as learners and teachers.

I like using
metaphors, and the image that entered my head was that of a meal, and I put this
on the activity line of our group. “Cooperation is “knytkalas”
(Dutch treat? Potluck?) where everyone brings something that is already made
and together the parts become a meal, while collaboration is bringing
ingredients of your choice/desire and together you create the meal, using your
different cooking talents and imagination, and it is also possible to run to
the store or pick things from the garden during the process.”

I also associated to
another pair of words and how they differ: assimilation and integration. Assimilation is conforming to the situation, culture,
norms… you adjust, adapt, conform – and the situation is actually not altered.
While integration means that your entering the situation or culture affects it
– you somehow transform it. It becomes enhanced. Cooperative
learning often means that the students work with and learn the same material, that
a teacher is the initial source of information and that there is a set goal to
reach. The process does not really change the setting. Collaborative learning
is, according to Davidson and Major (
), “a pedagogy that has at its
center the assumption that people make meaning together and that the process
enriches and enlarges them”. Hence my association.

My own experience of great collaborative learning and working
is not from the field of education but from my improvisation-life. Improvising
together is definitely collaboration – together the improvisors use their
skills and efforts to create something unplanned, unexpected. The group agrees
upon a starting-point, takes out some sort of direction – but from there on
anything can happen and the result is indeed enhanced fiction or enriched
reality or a combination of both…

In these wobbly times when we all seem to live in a slough, hopefully there will be more of collaboration – and of integration.

Enhanced existence