Opinion: What is Co-operative Education ?

Anonymous ACE contributor – April 20th 2022

Most of us have a general concept of co-operative education, generally speaking from dictionary definitions. My dictionary states that education deals with the process which is employed for the development of the person as a full-fledged member of society and it implies a number of elements:

  1. Something to be taught.
  2. Teachers and learners.
  3. Teaching and learning.

All of which are integrated into a pattern to produce the desired effects. There are many learning theories that are employed and are generally subject to considerable argument. It is sufficient

for this article to note that there is no single integrated theory of learning. We all learn in different ways.

Educational systems are generally thought of in relation to school systems, universities and vocational schools where very definite powers are established by law for school authorities. Most of the activity in these institutions centers on knowledge and skills and a general attitude is induced into the students which is hoped to stabilize society generally.

There is a sociological definition of education which looks at the process”from a cultural point of view. This states that education is a process by which culture is passed from one generation to another. Implicit in this definition is the development of both intellectual and moral faculties. Moral being the character and conduct which distinguishes right from wrong. Educational systems, therefore; tend to reflect world views. Each of us has some beliefs that help. us understand the world we live in and our place in it. People who have common world views cluster in groups and sub-cultures and in fact dominant world views, of cultures can be described. See Table 1.

This typology attempts to make the point that different world views will develop different educational systems. In addition, it’s important to note that the experimentalist world view differs from the other two in that it is on-going, dynamic and there is no final or ultimate position. The future is open ended. It remains to be designed and developed within the limitations of man’s creativity and the laws of probability.


Co-operative education could now be defined as the process by which the culture of co-operation is transmitted from one generation to another. The justification for this definition is found in the contention that co-operatives are organized as a society and are held to have social thrust and impact. Examples of these arguments can be found in “The Way Ahead” as ‘produced by the Co-operative Union of Canada (now Cooperatives and Mutuals Canada) and the writings of various cooperators, e.g. Laidlaw, describing the co-operative sector in Canada.

This definition tends to the absolutist view. There are co-operative principles to be followed which have been enshrined in law. At the same time, there is need to become more experimentalist and to create co-operative organizations based on the experimentalist view. I suspect the pressure will continue to push co-operative organizations and co-operative education in that direction. These positions give rise to issues described below:


  • Should co-operatives remain absolutist in posture and attempt to maintain the true faith?
  • Can co-operatives become experimentalist and at the same time retain their principles.
  • How should education programs for co-operatives be designed?
    • By role set as given?
    • By role set as a change agent?
    • By personality fit for personal growth, etc?
  • What should the standards be for evaluation?
    • Growth of the person?
    • Adaptability of the firm?
    • Impact on the community?
    • Application of co-operative principles in today’s world?

These issues straddle both the absolutist and experimentalist views and focus on three areas:

  • The person and the job.
  • The internal environment of the organization.
  • The external environment of the organization.

The problem is how to link these seemingly unrelated elements into a model which has practical value for the cooperative educator.


The systems approach offers some hope as one means to determine how seemingly unrelated elements are linked. The systems approach is a particular technique derived largely since World .War II as a means of problem solving and decision making. It is a way of viewing the world to provide understanding.


  • It looks at wholes rather than parts.
  • It takes into account that a given situation or a condition interacts or interconnects in relevant ways with other situations or conditions.
  • It assumes that meanings are in wholes and such meanings are greater than the sum of the parts.


  • A snooker game, not a snooker ball.
  • A human ear, not the parts of the ear.
  • A quadratic equation, not the factor’s.
  • An edonomic model, not the statistics.
  • A drama, not the actors.
  • And so forth.

Taken as totalities, each leads to a greater understanding than is possible by examining parts. Organization theory often considers organizations as relatively closed systems, with interaction in the environment primarily ‘through marketing. However, it is more useful to consider the organization as an open system and in process terms rather than using mechanistic models. All possible aspects of the environment can affect the system and vice versa and it is useful to examine the process by which this is achieved.

This can lead to a common framework for working on projects and can demonstrate inter-relationships and inter-connections between states, information, input, and results, for synthesizing the parts -into a dynamic whole. It is a practical Inlay td visualize and describe “reality” but, if taken literally, is impractical and impossible because literal application would result in compiling the effects of never ending interactions and the sheer number would become astronomical.

The way around that is to analyse the system in terms of finding out which is vital or critical to its survival and growth; that is both an art and a science. The two most promising techniques are modelling and system analysis.


Co-operative education can now be re-stated as being part of a co-operative system and a model Can be attempted. Co-operative organizations, as others, can be compared to open life systems with a capacity to influence and be influenced by the environment. This assumes a learning adapting-

coping process. Unlike life systems, there is no DNA genetic code. The limits of the system are found in other constraints and may be related to the fil.itt’s capacity to change or its ability or inability to learn. The model obviously must include the nature of linkages or relationships, how controls can be applied to one part of the system and consequences predicted. It must also make provision for testing validity, reliability, and constraints.

BeliefsAnimistic ViewAbsolutist ViewExperimentalist View
Source of knowledgeSupernatural beings, shared with heroesUltimate truths revealedIntelligence
Strategies for getting knowledgeSacrificesRevelation, experimentationResearch; creativity
Conceptions of environmentThe result of capricious behaviours of Gods, Spirits, DemonsThe result of invisible lawsThe result of dynamic inter-relationships within the limits of probability
Pupil’s chances of successBeyond his control, success by whim or chance. Fatalistic.Eternal options available should they be chosen, hopefulProblematic
The future of manMortal rather than spiritualSpiritual rather than mortalTo be designed

Jordan described such a model as a”general nature of a strategy” for organizational learning. The model takes into account the experimentalist view. It envisages that the organization has the option to plan for a passive or active intervention and assumes that planning and learning, which are forward and future oriented activities, can be incorporated irito the system and its capacity for adaPting, coping and growing would be improved. Such an approach doesn’t talk about co-operative principles but co-operative strategies, and describes co-operation as a process rather than a thing. It allows a posture which emphasizes future results and the probability of getting those results. The way. opens to search for useful knowledge that works rather than the “right” answer.


Consider linking elements together as a sub-system of a co-operative. Different sub-sets could be tried, such as:

  • Training-job behavior
  • The environment.
  • Functional literacy-change-culture.
  • Hierarchy-authority-responsiveness.

Clusters of these and other elements might be linked such as planning, intervention, learning, co-ordination, and feedback, to show inter-relationships. Another way to arrange sub-sets is in a hierarchy such as:

The System: The Co-operative SectorSocial Justice
Sub-system: a Co-operativeSocial and Economic Power
Sub-sub-system: the CollegeUseful knowledge
Sub-sub-sub-system: Training DepartmentsApplication of Knowledge and Skills


There is no standard of classification of models. They can be objects, flow-charts, mathematical formulations, etc. The first steps are largely intuitive, the past can be used but only as part of an-iterative process. The model is rather like a “snapshot” of the system at that time and is used as an aid-to thinking and not as a description of “reality.” All models must be tested for validity and reliability and ultimately can be used for building theory.


My position is that co-operative education is a process by which the co-operative organizations get selective information to be used in improving its adapting-coping capability through a learning process. I also believe that model building and systems analysis is probably more useful than definitions. Questions that rise at this point might be:

  • What’s the most effective way for educators to link together as sub-systems?
  • How do we internalize co-operative strategies as experimentalists?
  • How would we measure succes?