Benefit of Cooperative Learning in Relation to Student Motivations

05 Sep

Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy that employs a variety of motivational techniques to make instructional more relevant and students more responsible. The chapter outline the benefit of cooperative learning in terms of its motivational impact.

Dr. Theodore Panitz


General guideline for classroom motivation (for example, Forsyth and McMillan, 1994) suggest emphasis on challenging, engaging, informative activities and the building of enthusiasm and a sense of responsibilty in learners. Well-developed instructional strategies such as cooperative learning  offer many potenstial to learns (Panits, 1998)

The definition of cooperative learning as a motivational strategy includes all learning situations where students work in groups to accomplish particular learning objectives and are interdependent for successful completion of the objective. Forsyth an McMillan (1994) emphasize intrinsic motivation as a key element in teaching and learning, as does Wlodkowski, inclusion, engenders competence, and enhances meaning within diverse students. How can cooperative learning be a positive motivator for a diverse student population? This chapter attempts to answer that question.

Developing attitude: creating a favorable disposition toward the learning experience through personal relevance and choice

A primary benefit of cooperative learning is that enhances students self esteem which in turn motivates students to participate in the learning proses (Johnson&Johnson 1989). Cooperative efforts among students result in a higher degree of accomplishment by all paticipants (Slavin 1987). Students help each other and in doing so build a supportive community which raises the performance level of each member (Kagan 1986). This in turn leads to higher self esteem in all studens (Webb 1982).

Cooperation enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience by actively involving students in designing and completing class procedures and course content (Johnson&Jonhson 1990). Effective teams or groups assume ownership of a process and its results when individuals are encouraged to work together toward a common goal, often defined by the group. This aspect is especially helpful for individuals who have a history or failure (Turnure&Zigler 1958)

Cooperative promotes  mastery while passive acceptance of information from an outside expert often promoted as sense of helplessness and reliance upon other to attain concepts. In a typical college classroom emphasizing lecturing, there  is little time for reflection and discussion  of students errors or misconceptions. With the cooperative learning paradigm students are continuously discussing, debating and clarifying their understanding of the concept.

Cooperative learning reduces classroom anxiety created by new and unfamiliar situations faced by students (Kessler, Prince & Wortman 1985). In a traditional  classroom when a teacher calls upon a student, he/she becomes the focus of attention of the entire class. Any mistakes or incorrect answer become subject to scrutiny by the whole class. In contrast, in a cooperative learning situation, when students work in group, the focus of attention is diffused among the group. In addition, the group produces a product which its members can review prior to presenting it to the whole class, thus diminishing prospects that mistakes will occur at all (Slavin&Karweit 1981). When a mistake is made, it becomes a teaching tool instead of a public criticism of an individual student.

Test anxiety is significantly reduced (Johnson & Johnson 1989). Cooperative learning provides many opportunities for alternate forms of student assesment (Panitz&Panitz, 1996). This situation leads to a reduction in test anxiety because the students see that the teacher is able to evaluate how they think as well as what they know. Through the interactions with students during each class, the teacher gains a better understanding of each students learning style and how he/she performs and an opportunity is created whereby the teacher may provide extra guidance and counseling for the students.

Cooperative learning develops positive student-teacher attitudes (Johnson & Johnson 1989). The level of involvement of all the participants in a cooperative system is very intense and personal. Teacher learn about student behaviors because students have many opportunities to explain their action and thoughts to the teacher. Lines of communication are opened and actively  encouraged. Teachers have more opportunities to explain why policies are established and the system allows students to have more input into establishing policies and class prosedures. The empowerment created by the many interpersonal interactions leads to a very positive by all parties involved.

Cooperative learning sets high expectations for students and teacher (Panitz & Panitz 1998). Being made responsible for one’s learning and for one’s peers presumes that one has that capability. By setting obtainable goals for group and by facilitating group interaction, teacher establish high expectations which become self fulfilling as the students master the cooperative approach, learn haw to wirk well togethe in teams, and demonstrate their abilities through a variety of assesment methods.

Cooperative learning establishes inclusion, creating a learning atmosphere in which learners feel respected and connected to one another. Cooperative learning creates a strong social support system (Cohen & Willis 1985). Cooperative learning techniques use students social experiences such as warm-up exercises and group building activities to encourage their involvement in the learning process. The teacher plays a very active role in facilitating the process and interacting with each student while moving around the class and obesrving students interacting (Cooper et al 1985). Teacher may raise questions wiht individuals or small groups to help advise students or explain concept. In addition, a natural tendency to socialize with the students on a profesional level is created by cooperative learning. Students often mention offhandedly that they are having difficulties outside of class related to work, family, friends, etc. Openings like this can lead to a discussion of those problem by the teacher and students in a non-threatening way due to the informality of the situation, and additional support from other student service units in such areas can be a beneficial by-product (Kessler & McCleod, 1985)

Cooperative Learning students social interaction skills

A major component  of learning elaborated by Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1984) includes training students in the social skill needed to work cooperatively. In our society and current educational framework, competition is valued over cooperation. By asking group members to identify  what behaviors help them work together and by asking individuals to reflect on their contribution to the group’s success or failure, students are made aware of the .need for healthy, positive, helping interactions (Panitz 1996; Cohen & Cohen 1991).

According to Kessler and MCleod (1985 page 219) “Cooperative learning promotes positive societal responses … reduces violence in any setting ..eliminates fear and blame, and increases honor, friendliness, of and consensus. Process is as important as content  and goal. Cooperative learning takes time to master, and facilitators who have done the personal work that allows sharing of power, service to the learners, and natural learning, find cooperative leraning a joy.”

Sherman (1991) makes the observation, “Most social psychology text books contain considerable discussions about conflict and its resolution and/or reduction. Almost all introductory educational psycology text books now contain extended discussions of effective pedagogies for improving racial relations, self-esteem, internal locus if control and academic achievement (Messick & Mackie, 1989)”

operative learning fosters student interaction at all levels (Webb 1982). Research has shown that when students of high ability work with students of lower ability, the former benefit by explaining or demonstrating and the latter benefit by seeing an approach to problem solving modeled by a peer (Johnson & Johnson 1985, Swing, Peterson 1982: Hooper & Hannafin, 1988). Warm up and group building activities help students to understand their differences and to learn how to capitalize on them rather than use them as a basis for antagonism.

Cooperative learning helps majority and minority populations in a class learn to work with each other (Felder 1997, Johnson & Johnson 1972, Slavin 1980). Because students are actively involved in exploring issues and interacting with each other on a regular basis in a guided fashions, they are able to understand their differences and learn how to resolve social problems which may arise (Johnson & Johnson 1985). Training students in conflict resolution is a major component of learning training (Aronson 1978; Slavin 1987).

Cooperative learning establishes an atmosphere of cooperation and helping school-wide (Deutsch 1975). Cooperative learning focuses attention on the accomplishments of the group as well as the individual.  Teamwork is the modus operandi and inter-group cooperative is encouraged. Even when group competitions are used (Slavin 1987), the intent is to create a positive helping environments, students are taught how to criticize ideas, not people (Johnson, Johnson & Holubec 1984). A function of cooperative learning is to help students resolve differences amicably. They need to be taught how to challenge ideas and advocate for their positions without  personalizing their ro build interdependence within the groups. These roles often model societal motivational theory has shown that the direct applicability  of classroom small group problem-solving to students lives will enhances motivations to learn (Wlodowski 1985)

Cooperative learning is particularly effective at increasing the leadership skills of female students and for getting male students used to turning to women for help in pressure situation (Bean 1996). This benefit is especially important in mathematics classes where men generally dominate class discussions and presentations. The Johnson (1990, page 121) point out that, “Students tend to like and enjoy  math more and be more intrinsically motivated to learn more about it continually”. Cooperative learning also help to develop learning communities within classes and institution (Tinto 1997). Community  colleges and many four-year colleges are primarily commuter schools. Students do not  remain on campus for extracurricular or sosial activities. Many students have jobs and/or family pressures which also limit  their  ability to participate in campus life.  Thus it falls to the classroom teacher to create an atmosphere of community within the college. The previous discussion of the  social benefit of cooperative learning make it clear that creating a community of learners is easily accomplished using cooperative learning techniques. There is a significant benefit to cooperative learning which is not always apparent because is takes place outside of the classroom. If groups operate long enough during a course, the people in them will get to know each other and extend their activities outside of class. Students will exchange phone numbers and contact each other to get help with questions or problems they are having, and they will often sign up together for classes in later terms and seek out teachers who use cooperative learning methods (Bean 1996; Felder 1997)

Engendering competence : creating an understanding that learners are effective in learning something they value

                CL Develops higher level thinking skills (webb 1982). Student  are engaged in the learning process instetead of passively listening to the teacher . pairs of students (followed by threesomes and larger groups ) working together represent the most  affective from of interaction (schwartz, black, strange 1991) when students work in pairs one person is listening while the other partner is  discussing the question under investigation. Both are developing valuable problem solving skills by formulating their ideas, discussing them, receiving immediate feedback and responding to question and comment ( Jhons, D.W 1971; Peterson & Swing 1985). This aspect of cooperative learning does not preclude whole class discussion . in fact whole class discussion is enhanced by having students think out and discuss ideas thgoroughly before the entire class discusses an idea concept. In addition the teacher my temporarily join a group`s discussion to question ideas or statments made by group members or to clarify concept or question raised by students.

Cooperative learning fosters higher levels of performance (Bligh 19720). Critical thinking skills increase and retention of information and interest in the subject matter improve (Kulick 1979). This creats a positive cycle of good performance building higher self esteem which in turn leads to more interest in the subject and better performance (Keller , 1983) students share their succes with their groups, thus enhancing both the individual`s  and the group`s self esteem

Skill building and practice can be enhanced and made less tedious through CL activities used both in and out class (Tannerberg 1995) In order to develop critical thinking skills, students need a base of information to work from . acquiring this base often requires some degree of repetition and memory work. When this is accomplished individually the proces can be tedious boring or overwhelming, When students work togheter the learning process becomes interesting and fun despite the repetitive nature of the learning process. Male (1990) for example, has documented the positive impact of CL in drill and practice computer use.

CL Develops  student`s oral communication skills ( Yanger, Jhonson and Jhonson 1985). When students are working in pairs one partner verbalizes his/her idea while the other listens, asks question or comment upon what she / he has heard. Clarification and explanation of one `s ideas is a very important part of the cooperative process and requires higher order thingking  skills (jhonson, jhonson , Roy , zaidam 1985 ). Student who tutor each other must develop a clear idea of the concept they are presenting and orally communicate it to their partners( Neer 1987)

Enhancing meaning : creating challenging, thoughtful learning experiences that include learner`s values and perspectives and contribute to an equitable society.

                The focus of cooperative learning is to actively involve students in the learning process (Slavin 1980). Whenever two or more students attempt to solve a problem or answer a question they become involved in the process of exploratory learning. Promotive interaction, a basic principle of CL., builds student`s sense of responsibility to themselves and their group members throught reliance upon each other`s talents, and  CL assessment processes reward both individuals and group thus reinforcing this interdependence ( Baird & White  1984)

During the cooperative process, students can become involved in developing curriculum and class procedures ( Kort 1992). They are often asked to assess themselves, their group, and class procedures (Meier & Panitz 1996). Teachers can take advantage of this immediate formative input without having to wait for results of exams or course evaluations.  Students who participate in structuring the class assume ownership of the process and their opinions and observations are given credibility. CL helps students wean themselves away from considering teachers as the sole sources of knowledge and understanding ( Felder 1997 ).

The primary foci in CL are the process of learning and they means by which individual function independently and within groups. The high level of interaction and interdependence among group member leads to “deep”  rather  than “surface” learning (Entwistle and tait , 1994 ), and more emphasis on higher  order learning ( see donald in this issue ). CL is student centered , leading to emphasis on learning as well as teaching and to more student ownership of responsibility for that learning. In contrast, other teaching paradigms consist of individual student effort, competitive testing to assess competence and an evaluation hierarchy based upon “grade orientation “ rather than “learning orientation” (lowman, 1987).

Student who develop personal professional relation with teachers by getting to know them, and who work on projects outside of class, achive better results and tend to stay in school (cooper 1994, hagman & hayes 1986). Teacher who get to know their students and understand their learning  styles and problems, and can often find ways of dealing with those problems and inspiring students ( Janke 1980 ). According to ( felder, 1997 ) additional benefits accrue to students in areas of grade improvement, retention of information, information transfer to other courses and disciplines, and improved class attendance. There is a strong positive correlation between class attendance and success in courses ( Johson and Jhonson 1989 ) which may help account for the improved performance .

Student who are actively involved in the learning process are much more likely to become interested in learning and make more of an effort to attend school ( astin 1977 ). A class where students interact fosters an environment conducive to high student motivation and participation and students attendance ( Treisman 1983, 1992 ).

Cooperative learning inherently calls for  self – management  by students ( Resnick 1987 ). In order to function within their groups students are trained to come prepared with assignments completed and they must understand the material which they are going to contribute to their group. They are also given time to process group behaviors such as checking with each other to make sure homework assignment are not only completed but understood. These promotive interactions help students learn self – management techniques.

CL increases student`s persistence and the likelihood of successful completion of assignments ( felder 1997 ). When individuals get stuck they are more likely to give up, but groups are much more likely to find ways to keep going. This concept is reinforced by the Johnsons ( 1990 p121 ) who state, “In a learning situation, student goal achievements are positively correlated;  student in the learning group also reach their goal. Thus, students seek outcomes that are beneficial to all those with whom they are cooperatively linked “


           CL provides many advantages to teachers and learners. Many of these advantages arise from the intrinsic motivational strengths of CL and the extent to which CL fosters student interst, behavioral and attitudinal change , and opportunities for success. As keller demonstrates (1983) this set of outcomes results from the successful incorporation of motivational issues in into instruction.


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