The benefits of learning cooperatively

by dhend2 on November 13, 2014 - 11:13pm

The journal titled “Cooperative Learning Returns to College: What Evidence is There That It Works?” by David Johnson, Roger Johnson, and Karl Smith discusses the collection of over 168 studies between 1924 and 1997 and their findings. Each of these studies compared cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning styles and their effect on the overall success of college aged students. They concluded that students who learned cooperatively were significantly more successful than those who learned competitively or individually. The evidence in these studies was measured by effect size, a measure of the differences in achievement. The higher the effect size, the greater the differences were between learning styles. In the study, they found that cooperative learning promoted higher achievement than did competitive learning, with an effect size of 0.49 and higher achievement than did individual learning, with an effect size of 0.53. For example with an effect size of 0.49, a student who scored in the 50th percentile when learning competitively would score in the 69th percentile when learning cooperatively.

The studies not only concluded that students were more academically successful. They were also significantly more advanced in many other areas; to name a few, they were better problem solvers, more creative, and more motivated. In addition, students who learned cooperatively had better relationships with their professors and other students, were more psychologically healthy, and had a better attitude towards learning. For example, students who learned cooperatively felt more emotionally supported than those who learned competitively (effect size of 0.60) and those who learned individually (effect size of 0.51). In addition, students who worked cooperatively held a higher self-esteem than those who worked competitively (effect size of 0.47) and those who worked individually (effect size of 0.29).

While there are many benefits to learning cooperatively, effective cooperation between individuals is not always simple. The authors gathered five things essential to successful cooperation. First, the group must have positive interdependence, meaning that the student believes that they cannot succeed unless the others in their group succeed. On the other hand the students must also have individual accountability, meaning they are responsible for their own learning. They must support and encourage one another as well as have the ability to communicate and make decisions. Lastly, they must engage in group processing. Group processing involves reflecting on ways to improve as a group. This can include phrases like “It was helpful when we did this” or “We should do this next time”.

Based on the significant evidence that cooperative learning is much more beneficial than other learning styles, it is reasonable to conclude that students should always try to learn and work together in small groups. It would also be wise if college professors based their teaching style on having students work together. It has been my experience that I learn more when working cooperatively because it helps me look at things from different perspectives. Some more research should be done to find which areas cooperative learning is most beneficial. Is it always the best way for students to learn or are there times when students working individually or competing with one another has the best results?  In addition, it is important to note that every student has a unique learning style. Does cooperative learning work best for every student, or are some students more efficient working competitively/individually?



Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson, & Karl A. Smith, "Cooperative Learning Returns To  College: What Evidence Is There That It Works?" Change, July/August 1998, p. 27-35.

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