ERIC Identifier: ED347871
Publication Date: 1992-02-00
Author: Johnson, David W. - And Others
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington
Univ. Washington DC. School of Education and Human Development.
Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional
Productivity. ERIC Digest.
The use of active learning strategies, such as cooperative learning, is
growing at a remarkable rate. Professors are incorporating cooperative learning
to increase students' achievement, create positive relationships among students,
and promote students' healthy psychological adjustment to school. This monograph
is about how college faculty can ensure that students actively create their
knowledge rather than passively listening to the professor's. It is about
structuring learning situations cooperatively at the college level so that
students work together to achieve shared goals.
WHAT IS COOPERATIVE LEARNING?
Cooperative learning is the
instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize
their own and each other's learning. Considerable research demonstrates that
cooperative learning produces higher achievement, more positive relationships
among students, and healthier psychological adjustment than do competitive or
individualistic experiences. These effects, however, do not automatically appear
when students are placed in groups. For cooperative learning to occur, the
professor must carefully structure learning groups. Further, cooperative
learning can be structured in many different ways. Three broad categories of
cooperative learning strategies are formal cooperative learning groups, informal
cooperative learning groups, and cooperative base groups. Finally, cooperation
can be just as powerful among faculty as it is among students. To increase
faculty members' effectiveness, the existing competitive/individualistic college
structure must be restructured to a cooperative, team-based college structure.
The conceptual approach to cooperative learning described in this monograph
involves training professors to apply an overall system to build cooperative
activities, lessons, and strategies. This conceptual approach is based on a
theoretical framework that provides general principles on how to structure
cooperative learning activities in a teacher's specific subject area,
curriculum, students, and setting. Using these principles, teachers can analyze
their current curricula, students, and instructional goals, and design
appropriate cooperative lessons. The advantage of conceptual principles is that
they can be used in any classroom, from preschool to graduate school. The
particulars can be adapted for differences in students' age, ability, and
background. The appeal of a conceptual approach is that it provides a foundation
upon which faculty can build. Rather than slavishly following a specific
approach, faculty can branch out and try things on their own, using the
procedures as models rather than as prescriptives.
Many educators who believe that they are using cooperative learning are, in
fact, missing its essence. A crucial difference exists between simply putting
students in groups to learn and in structuring cooperation among students.
Cooperation is not having students sit side by side at the same table to talk
with each other as they do their individual assignments. It is not assigning a
report to a group of students where one student does all the work and the others
put their names on the product as well. It is not having students do a task
individually with instructions that the ones who finish first are to help the
slower students. Cooperation is much more than being physically near other
students, discussing material with them, helping them, or sharing material among
students, although each is important in cooperative learning.
To be cooperative, a group must have clear positive interdependence, members
must promote each other's learning and success face to face, hold each other
personally and individually accountable to do his or her fair share of the work,
use appropriately the interpersonal and small-group skills needed for
cooperative efforts to be successful, and process as a group how effectively
members are working together. These five essential components must be present
for small-group learning to be truly cooperative.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO IMPLEMENT COOPERATIVE
Cooperative learning groups can be used to teach specific content
and problem-solving skills (formal learning groups), ensure active cognitive
processing during a lecture (informal learning groups), and provide long-term
support and assistance for academic progress (base groups). When used in
combination, these learning groups provide an overall structure with variety for
Formal cooperative learning groups might last for one class period to several
weeks to complete a specific task or assignment. In a cooperative learning
group, students work together to accomplish shared goals. They have two
responsibilities: to maximize their own learning and to maximize the learning of
all the members of the group. First, students receive instructions and
objectives from their instructor. Second, the instructor assigns each student to
a learning group, provides needed materials, arranges the room, and perhaps
gives each student a specific role to fulfill in the group. Third, the
instructor explains the task and the cooperative structure. Fourth, the
instructor monitors the functioning of each learning group and intervenes to
teach cooperative skills and assist in academic learning when needed. Finally,
the instructor evaluates the quality and quantity of each student's learning and
ensures that each group processes how effectively members are working together.
Students who need help in completing the assignment are instructed to ask their
peers for assistance first and to request help from the instructor only if
needed. Students are expected to interact with members of their group, share
ideas and materials, support and encourage each other's academic achievement,
orally explain and elaborate the concepts and strategies being learned, and hold
each other accountable for completing the assignment, using a
Informal cooperative learning groups are temporary, ad hoc groups that last
for only one discussion or one class period. Their purposes are to focus
students' attention on the material to be learned, set a mood conducive to
learning, help organize in advance the material to be covered in a class
session, ensure that students cognitively process the material being taught, and
provide closure to an instructional session. They can be used at any time but
are especially useful during a lecture or direct teaching before the students'
eyes begin to glaze over (some estimate the length of time that people can
attend to a lecture to be about 12 to 15 minutes; students then need to process
what they are learning or their minds drift away). During direct teaching, the
instructional challenge for the teacher is to ensure that students do the
intellectual work of organizing material, explaining it, summarizing it, and
integrating it into existing conceptual networks, which can be achieved by
having students do the advance organizing, cognitively process what they are
learning, and summarize their learning. Breaking up lectures with short
cooperative processing times gives the instructor slightly less lecture time but
enhances what is learned and builds relationships among students. It helps
counter what is proclaimed as the main problem of lectures: The information
passes from the notes of the professor to the notes of the student without
passing through the mind of either one.
Base groups are long-term, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups with
stable membership whose primary responsibility is to provide each student the
support, encouragement, and assistance needed to progress academically. Base
groups personalize the work required and the learning experiences in the course.
They consist of three or four participants who stay together during the entire
course, perhaps exchanging phone numbers and information about schedules so they
can meet outside class.
WHY BOTHER USING COOPERATIVE LEARNING?
Over 600 studies
have been conducted during the past 90 years comparing the effectiveness of
cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts. These studies have been
conducted by a wide variety of researchers in different decades with subjects of
different ages, in different subject areas, and in different settings. More is
known about the efficacy of cooperative learning than about lecturing,
departmentalization, the use of instructional technology, or almost any other
aspect of education. The more one works in cooperative learning groups, the more
that person learns, the better he understands what he is learning, the easier it
is to remember what he learns, and the better he feels about himself, the class,
and his classmates.
Cooperative learning, although not the easiest way to teach, can revitalize
students and faculty by providing a structured environment for sharing some of
the responsibility for learning. Through working together to learn complex
conceptual information and master knowledge and skills, students learn more,
have more fun, and develop many other skills, such as learning how to work with
one another. Faculty, meanwhile, must provide the foundation and learning
structures to guide their students in this new learning experience.
Johnson, David W., and Roger T. Johnson. 1989. "Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research." Edina, Minn.: Interaction
McKeachie, Wilbert, Paul Pintrich, Lin Yi-Guang, and David Smith. 1986.
"Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom: A Review of the Research
Literature." Ann Arbor: Regents of the Univ. of Michigan.
Whitman, Neal A. 1988. "Peer Teaching: To Teach Is to Learn Twice." ASHE-ERIC
Higher Education Report No. 4. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of
Higher Education. ED 305 016. 103 pp. MF-01; PC-05.
This ERIC digest is based on a new full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series, prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and
published by the School of Education at the George Washington University.