Cooperative education is a type of learning in which students split their educational time between classroom learning and learning in the workplace. This can be done from one semester to the next, with one semester spent in classes, the next on the job, then back in classes, until the student finishes his or her program. Some programs instead work by splitting a student’s day between the classroom and workplace. Cooperative education is typically concerned primarily with the relationship between what is learned and how that knowledge can be used in the “real world” and is typically utilized in technical educational programs.
First proposed and created by Herman Schneider in the early 20th century, cooperative education seeks to encourage learning in students by directly relating what they learn to how it can be used in the workplace. Often associated with experiential learning and similar educational pedagogies, a cooperative education typically pairs a student at a secondary level such as college or a university with a real work environment. For example, someone interested in computer science might take classes one semester about microchips and circuit board design. The next semester, he or she would then work at a business creating microchips and circuit boards.
In other forms of cooperative education, the student in the previous example would learn during one part of the day and work in another part of the day. So he or she may learn about something in the morning and actually use that knowledge in the afternoon or evening while working. This allows a student to immediately connect the material learned in a classroom with how it applies to the actual industry in which he or she wishes to work. This connection is often assisted by instructors who work primarily as facilitators, helping students reflect on the work and how it relates to the classroom lessons.
Some critics of cooperative education see flaws in these programs, both in that they often require a great deal of time to complete and that the connection between classroom and workplace may not be properly made by the student. As technology has become increasingly important in numerous industries, however, this type of education is often seen as an ideal way to teach newcomers in a field and also to facilitate ongoing education for those already working in an industry. Other pedagogical movements, such as service learning and experiential education, have often utilized ideas from cooperative education and the future of American technological education may well involve one of these models.