Saturday, January 7, 2012

Essential Components of Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is a type of group work. However, it does not only imply putting pupils into groups. For example:

o   Talking in groups while working individually the assignment is not cooperative learning.

o   Working in group while alienating one member is not cooperative learning.

o   Leaving the tasks to only one or few members of the group is not cooperative learning.

Educators sometimes fail to carry out a proper group work using cooperative learning because some essential components were missing.

 Johnson, D. et al. (1994) explain five essential components of cooperative learning as follows:

Essential Components of Cooperative Learning

(Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1994. p. 26)

1 Positive interdependence

This is the first essential component of cooperative learning. Students need to be aware of the responsibility of learning and ensuring that other group members learn the assigned material. They need to be conscious that their success depends on the success of the others and vice versa. As Johnson, D. et al. (1994) rightly pointed out, it is a “we sink or swim together” situation.

Johnson, D. et al. (1994) mention four ways in which positive interdependence can be established within a group:

i.        Positive goal interdependence: The teacher structures a clear group goal in his lesson which makes students feel they will achieve their learning goal only when all group members attain their goals.

ii.      Positive reward/ celebration interdependence: The same reward is given to each group member when the group goal is achieved. Alternately, when assessments on the lesson are done individually, all members of a particular group may be awarded bonus marks if all members of the group attain a predetermined score, for example at least 80%.

iii.    Positive resource interdependence: The teacher may distribute the resources necessary for a particular assignment in such a way that it is necessary for members to pool the resources together to be able to work. For example only one copy of the assignment task given to the group or giving the reading material to one member and the writing material to another.

iv.    Positive role interdependence: Each member is assigned complementary and interconnected roles. Such roles may be as reader, recorder, editor, checker of understanding or even group coordinator.

2 Face to face promotive interaction

As positive interdependence is established, it brings a second essential component of cooperative learning: promotive interaction. This refers to students helping each other to succeed thus fostering a caring and committed relationship towards others. They may even go beyond helping and where the need arises encourage and accompany other members towards success.

According to Johnson, D. et al. (1994), face to face promotive interaction results in individuals:

·         Providing efficient and effective help and assistance to each other

·         Exchanging needed resources such as information and materials

·         Processing information efficiently and effectively

·         Providing feedback to subsequently improve performance

·         Challenging each other’s conclusion to promote higher quality decision making

·         Encouraging each other to achieve mutual goals

·         Acting in trustworthy ways

·         Striving for mutual benefit

·         Supplying a moderate level of arousal with low levels of anxiety and stress.

3 Individual accountability/ Personal responsibility

The purpose of cooperative learning is to enhance the learning both for the group and for the individual. This purpose is achieved when each member, as an individual, does his fair share of the work. Therefore, it is essential to assess not only the group but also the individual and his personal contribution to learning both for the group and for himself.

According to Johnson, D. et al. (1994), common ways to structure individual accountability include:

·         Keeping the size of the group small for greater individual accountability

·         Give individual assessment to pupils after having learnt in group

·         Randomly calling a student to present the group’s work orally

·         Observe and record frequency with which each members contributes to the group’s work

4 Interpersonal and group skills

Cooperative learning requires students to interact with each other. However, they might not know instinctively how to interact with each other correctly. Johnson and Johnson (1991), as quoted by Johnson, D. et al. (1994), rightly stated that teachers  giving more importance to teaching and rewarding the use of social skills leads to higher achievement in cooperative learning.

Use of social skills can easily be assessed while assessing individual accountability. Simple rewards may be in the form of bonus marks when for example all members of the group use at least 4 of 6 social skills that the teacher taught.

Johnson, D. et al. (1994) listed the following social skills that are essentials for cooperative learning to be efficient:

·         Students must get to know and trust each other

·         Students must communicate accurately and unambiguously

·         Students must accept and support each other

·         Conflicts to be resolved constructively

5 Group processing

It is important for teachers to allocate some time for groups to have a reflection on how well they have functioned. This will allow pupils to assess each other’s  actions in the groups and make decisions about whether to maintain current working relationships which are effective or to change certain behaviours to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the group in achieving its goal. This reflection also allows members to:

·         Assess the participation of the other members in the group’s work

·         Receive feedback on their own participation

·         Maintain their involvement in the reflection process

·         Communicate clear expectations about the group work


Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1994. The new Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom and School. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Other materials on Cooperative learning:

 Cooperative Learning: A Learner-Centred Teaching Strategy