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Cooperative learning is an educational approach which aims to organize classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. There is much more to Cooperative Learning than merely arranging students into groups, and it has been described as "structuring positive interdependence." Students must work in groups to complete tasks collectively toward academic goals. Unlike individual learning, which can be competitive in nature, students learning cooperatively can capitalize on one another’s resources and skills (asking one another for information, evaluating one another’s ideas, monitoring one another’s work, etc.). Furthermore, the teacher's role changes from giving information to facilitating students' learning. Everyone succeeds when the group succeeds. Ross and Smyth (1995) describe successful cooperative learning tasks as intellectually demanding, creative, open-ended, and involve higher order thinking tasks. Five essential elements are identified for the successful incorporation of cooperative learning in the classroom.The first and most important element is Positive Interdependence. The second element is individual and group accountability. The third element is (face to face) promotive interaction. The fourth element is teaching the students the required interpersonal and small group skills. The fifth element is group processing. According to Johnson and Johnson's meta-analysis, students in cooperative learning settings compared to those in individualistic or competitive learning settings, achieve more, reason better, gain higher self-esteem, like classmates and the learning tasks more and have more perceived social support.
- 1 History
- 2 Theoretical Base
- 3 Types
- 4 Elements
- 5 Techniques
- 6 Introduction
- 7 Research evidence
- 8 Limitations
- 9 Cooperation vs Competition vs Individualistic Efforts
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Prior to World War II, social theorists such as Allport, Watson, Shaw, and Mead began establishing cooperative learning theory after finding that group work was more effective and efficient in quantity, quality, and overall productivity when compared to working alone. However, it wasn’t until 1937 when researchers May and Doob found that people who cooperate and work together to achieve shared goals, were more successful in attaining outcomes, than those who strived independently to complete the same goals. Furthermore, they found that independent achievers had a greater likelihood of displaying competitive behaviours.
Philosophers and psychologists in the 1930s and 40’s such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Morton Deutsh also influenced the cooperative learning theory practiced today. Dewey believed it was important that students develop knowledge and social skills that could be used outside of the classroom, and in the democratic society. This theory portrayed students as active recipients of knowledge by discussing information and answers in groups, engaging in the learning process together rather than being passive receivers of information (e.g., teacher talking, students listening).
Lewin’s contributions to cooperative learning were based on the ideas of establishing relationships between group members in order to successfully carry out and achieve the learning goal. Deutsh’s contribution to cooperative learning was positive social interdependence, the idea that the student is responsible for contributing to group knowledge.
Since then, David and Roger Johnson have been actively contributing to the cooperative learning theory. In 1975, they identified that cooperative learning promoted mutual liking, better communication, high acceptance and support, as well as demonstrated an increase in a variety of thinking strategies among individuals in the group. Students who showed to be more competitive lacked in their interaction and trust with others, as well as in their emotional involvement with other students.
In 1994 Johnson and Johnson published the 5 elements (positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, social skills, and processing) essential for effective group learning, achievement, and higher-order social, personal and cognitive skills (e.g., problem solving, reasoning, decision-making, planning, organizing, and reflecting).
Social Interdependence Theory: Social interdependence exists when the outcomes of individuals are affected by their own and others' actions. There are two types of social interdependence: positive (when the actions of individuals promote the achievement of joint goals) and negative (when the actions of individuals obstruct the achievement of each other's goals.) Social interdependence may be differentiated from social dependence, independence, and helplessness. Social dependence exits when the goal achievement of Person A is affected by Person B's actions, but the reverse is not true. Social independence exists when the goal achievement of Person A is unaffected by Person B's actions and vice versa. Social helplessness exists when neither the person nor other can influence goal achievement.
Kurt Lewin proposed that the essence of a group is the interdependence among members that results in the group being a dynamic whole so that a change in the state of any member or subgroup changes the state of any other member or subgroup. Group members are made interdependent through common goals. As members perceive their common goals, a state of tension arises that motivates movement toward the accomplishment of the goals.
Morton Deutsch extended Lewin's notions by examining how the tension systems of different people may be interrelated. He conceptualized two types of social interdependence—positive and negative. Positive interdependence exists when there is a positive correlation among individuals' goal attainments; individuals perceive that they can attain their goal if and only if the other individuals with whom they are cooperatively linked attain their goals. Positive interdependence results in promotive interaction. Negative interdependence exists when there is a negative correlation among individuals' goal achievements; individual perceive that they can obtain their goals if and only if the other individuals with whom they are competitively like fail to obtain their goals. Negative interdependence results in oppositional or content interaction. No interdependence exists when there is no correlation among individuals' goal achievements; individuals perceive that the achievement of their goals is unrelated to the goal achievement of others. The basic premise of social interdependence theory is that how participants' goals are structured determines the ways they interact and the interaction pattern determine the outcomes of the situation.
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Formal cooperative learning is structured, facilitated, and monitored by the educator over time and is used to achieve group goals in task work (e.g. completing a unit). Any course material or assignment can be adapted to this type of learning, and groups can vary from 2-6 people with discussions lasting from a few minutes up to an entire period. Types of formal cooperative learning strategies include:
- The jigsaw technique
- Assignments that involve group problem solving and decision making
- Laboratory or experiment assignments
- Peer review work (e.g. editing writing assignments).
Having experience and developing skill with this type of learning often facilitates informal and base learning. Jigsaw activities are wonderful because the student assumes the role of the teacher on a given topic and is in charge of teaching the topic to a classmate. The idea is that if students can teach something, they have already learned the material.
Informal cooperative learning incorporates group learning with passive teaching by drawing attention to material through small groups throughout the lesson or by discussion at the end of a lesson, and typically involves groups of two (e.g. turn-to-your-partner discussions). These groups are often temporary and can change from lesson to lesson (very much unlike formal learning where 2 students may be lab partners throughout the entire semester contributing to one another’s knowledge of science).
Discussions typically have four components that include formulating a response to questions asked by the educator, sharing responses to the questions asked with a partner, listening to a partner’s responses to the same question, and creating a new well-developed answer. This type of learning enables the student to process, consolidate, and retain more information.
In group-based cooperative learning, these peer groups gather together over the long term (e.g. over the course of a year, or several years such as in high school or post-secondary studies) to develop and contribute to one another’s knowledge mastery on a topic by regularly discussing material, encouraging one another, and supporting the academic and personal success of group members.
Base group learning (e.g., a long term study group) is effective for learning complex subject matter over the course or semester and establishes caring, supportive peer relationships, which in turn motivates and strengthens the student’s commitment to the group’s education while increasing self-esteem and self-worth. Base group approaches also make the students accountable to educating their peer group in the event that a member was absent for a lesson. This is effective both for individual learning, as well as social support.
Johnson and Johnson (2009) posited five variables that mediate the effectiveness of cooperation. Brown & Ciuffetelli Parker (2009) and Siltala (2010) discuss the 5 basic and essential elements to cooperative learning:
- Positive interdependence
- Students must fully participate and put forth effort within their group
- Each group member has a task/role/responsibility therefore must believe that they are responsible for their learning and that of their group
- Face-to-face promotive interaction
- Members promote each other's success
- Students explain to one another what they have or are learning and assist one another with understanding and completion of assignments
- Individual and group accountability
- Each student must demonstrate mastery of the content being studied
- Each student is accountable for their learning and work, therefore eliminating "social loafing"
- Social skills
- Social skills that must be taught in order for successful cooperative learning to occur
- Skills include effective communication, interpersonal and group skills
- Friendship- development
- Conflict-management skills
- Group processing
- Group processing occurs when group members (a) reflect on which member actions were helpful and (b) make decision about which actions to continue or change.
- The purpose of group processing is to clarify and improve the effectiveness with which members carry out the processes necessary to achieve the group's goals.
In order for student achievement to improve considerably, two characteristics must be present:
- When designing cooperative learning tasks and reward structures, individual responsibility and accountability must be identified. Individuals must know exactly what their responsibilities are and that they are accountable to the group in order to reach their goal.
- All group members must be involved in order for the group to complete the task. In order for this to occur each member must have a task that they are responsible for which cannot be completed by any other group member.
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There are a great number of cooperative learning techniques available. Some cooperative learning techniques utilize student pairing, while others utilize small groups of four or five students. Hundreds of techniques have been created into structures to use in any content area. Among the easy to implement structures are Think-Pair-Share, Think-Pair-Write, variations of Round Robin, and the Reciprocal Teaching Technique. A well known cooperative learning technique is the Jigsaw, Jigsaw II and Reverse Jigsaw.
Originally developed by Frank T. Lyman (1981), Think-Pair-Share allows for students to contemplate a posed question or problem silently. The student may write down thoughts or simply just brainstorm in his or her head. When prompted, the student pairs up with a peer and discusses his or her idea(s) and then listens to the ideas of his or her partner. Following pair dialogue, the teacher solicits responses from the whole group. When teachers use this technique they don't have to worry about students not volunteering because each student will already have an idea in their heads, therefore, the teacher can call on anyone and increase discussion productivity.
Students are members of two groups: home group and expert group. In the heterogeneous home group, students are each assigned a different topic. Once a topic has been identified, students leave the home group and group with the other students with their assigned topic. In the new group, students learn the material together before returning to their home group. Once back in their home group, each student is accountable for teaching his or her assigned topic.
Jigsaw II is Robert Slavin's (1980) variation of Jigsaw in which members of the home group are assigned the same material, but focus on separate portions of the material. Each member must become an "expert" on his or her assigned portion and teach the other members of the home group.
This variation was created by Timothy Hedeen (2003) It differs from the original Jigsaw during the teaching portion of the activity. In the Reverse Jigsaw technique, students in the expert groups teach the whole class rather than return to their home groups to teach the content.
This is a cooperative learning strategy in which students form two concentric circles and take turns on rotation to face new partners to answer or discuss the teacher’s questions. This method can be used to gather variety of information, generate new ideas and solve problems.
Brown & Paliscar (1982) developed reciprocal teaching. It is a cooperative technique that allows for student pairs to participate in a dialogue about text. Partners take turns reading and asking questions of each other, receiving immediate feedback. Such a model allows for students to use important metacognitive techniques such as clarifying, questioning, predicting, and summarizing. It embraces the idea that students can effectively learn from each other.
Students collaborate to answer a big question that is the learning objective. Each group has differentiated questions that increases in cognitive ability to allow students to progress and meet the learning objective.
STAD (or Student-Teams-Achievement Divisions)
Students are placed in small groups (or teams). The class in its entirety is presented with a lesson and the students are subsequently tested. Individuals are graded on the team's performance. Although the tests are taken individually, students are encouraged to work together to improve the overall performance of the group.
Main article: Rally Table Rally Table is another process of Cooperative Learning. In this process, the class or the students are divided into groups. This is done to encourage group learning, team building and cooperative learning. It is the written version of Robin Table.
TGT (or Team Game Tournament)
Students are placed into small groups to study and prepare for a trivia game. This gives students incentive to learn and have some fun learning the material. This is a group exercise so not one student is to blame if a team loses. 
Team game tournament is an effective technique of cooperative learning wherein groups are created that function in the class for a period of time. In this technique the groups revise a portion of material before writing a written test. This motivates those students that have the fear of writing the test and to learn and reinforce what has been already learnt. This method is one of the learning strategies designed by Robert Slavin for the purpose of review and mastery in the learning. This method was basically to increase student’s skills, increase interaction and self-esteem between students. In this technique the students study in the class. The material is supplied and are taught in groups or individually through different activities. The students after receiving the material review it and then bring 2-6 points from their study into their assigned groups. Since the tournament is based on a material there is a specific answer.
- Students are working in hetrogeneous groups.
- Playing the games makes the students to move into homogeneous and higher level groups.
The students compete in the tournament after a designated time to study by forming groups of 3-4 students where the stronger students compete with the weaker students and winner of the respective teams is moved to a high level team while the students who don’t score well are moved to an easier level. This ensures that students of the same ability are competing with each other."
TGT enhances student cooperation and friendly competition which allows different students with different capabilities to work together and acquire mastery in the topics assigned to them. The students have the independence to have interactions with different students. The benefit of this activity is that it holds the students responsible for the material they have to prepare.
- The involvement of students in higher learning.
- The students get excited about learning.
- Knowledge is obtained from the student rather than solely from the teacher.
- Fosters positive attitude in the students, such as cooperation, tolerance.
- Trains students to express or convey ideas.
- It is time consuming for new teachers.
- Requires adequate facilities and infrastructure.
- Can create confusion in the classroom.
TGT is an effective tool to teach mathematics as it motivates and helps students acquire skills and mastery with the help of their peer and through healthy competition.
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Research on cooperative learning demonstrated "overwhelmingly positive" results and confirmed that cooperative modes are cross-curricular. Cooperative learning requires students to engage in group activities that increase learning and adds other important dimensions. The positive outcomes include academic gains, improved race relations and increased personal and social development. Students who fully participate in group activities, exhibit collaborative behaviors, provide constructive feedback, and cooperate with their groups have a higher likelihood of receiving higher test scores and course grades at the end of the semester. Cooperative learning is an active pedagogy that fosters higher academic achievement. Cooperative learning has also been found to increase attendance, time on task, enjoyment of school and classes, motivation, and independence.
Benefits and applicability of cooperative learning:
- Students demonstrate academic achievement
- Cooperative learning methods are usually equally effective for all ability levels
- Cooperative learning is effective for all ethnic groups
- Student perceptions of one another are enhanced when given the opportunity to work with one another
- Cooperative learning increases self-esteem and self-concept
- Ethnic and physically/mentally handicapped barriers are broken down allowing for positive interactions and friendships to occur
Cooperative learning results in:
- Increased higher level reasoning
- Increased generation of new ideas and solutions
- Greater transfer of learning between situations
Cooperative learning is significant in business:
- Cooperative learning can be seen as a characteristic of innovative businesses
- The five stage division on cooperative learning creates a useful method of analyzing learning in innovative businesses
- Innovativity connected to cooperative learning seems to make the creation of innovations possible
Cooperative Learning has many limitations that could cause the process to be more complicated than first perceived. Sharan (2010) describes the constant evolution of cooperative learning as a threat. Because cooperative learning is constantly changing, there is a possibility that teachers may become confused and lack complete understanding of the method. The fact that cooperative learning is such a dynamic practice means that it can not be used effectively in many situations. Also teachers can get into the habit of relying on cooperative learning as a way to keep students busy. While cooperative learning will consume time, the most effective application of cooperative learning hinges on an active instructor. Teachers implementing cooperative learning may also be challenged with resistance and hostility from students who believe that they are being held back by their slower teammates or by students who are less confident and feel that they are being ignored or demeaned by their team.
Students often provide feedback in the form of evaluations or reviews on success of the teamwork experienced during cooperative learning experiences. Peer review and evaluations may not reflect true experiences due to perceived competition among peers. Students might feel pressured into submitting inaccurate evaluations due to bullying. To eliminate such concerns, confidential evaluation processes may help to increase evaluation strength.
Cooperation vs Competition vs Individualistic Efforts
There are many reasons why competitors tend to achieve less than they would if they were working cooperatively. And there have also been lots of studies making a claim that cooperative learning is more effective than competitive learning and individualistic efforts. But studies also show that competition and individualistic efforts can be constructive and should be encouraged when they are appropriately structured.
- Conditions for Constructive Competition
- Winning is relatively unimportant
- All participants have a reasonable chance to win.
- There are clear and specific rules, procedures, and criteria for winning.
- Conditions for Constructive Individualistic Efforts
- Cooperation is too costly, difficult or cumbersome because of the unavailability of skilled potential cooperators or the unavailability of the resources need for cooperation to take place.
- The goal is perceived as important, relevant, and worthwhile
- Participants expect to be successful in achieving their goals.
- The directions for completing the tasks are clear and specific, so participants do not need further clarification on how to proceed and how to evaluate their work.
- What is accomplished will be used subsequently in a cooperative effort.
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-  at The Cooperative Learning Institute