Friday, February 17, 2012

Strengths and Weaknesses of Cooperative Learning

The findings regarding small group cooperative learning are generally positive, especially in studies comparing this teaching strategy with more traditional approaches such as whole class teaching. These generally positive effects have been found both with cognitive or academic achievement and various affective and other non-cognitive factors.
(Barry, K. and King, L., 2002. p. 237)
No doubt cooperative learning is a learner centred approach to teaching and therefore focuses more on the development of the learner.  Apart from the subject area which the teacher is teaching, cooperative learning helps students develop several social and interpersonal skills which include working in teams with others, acceptance and respect for others, language proficiency among others. Such skills are becoming more and more important in our dynamic globalised world, especially for pupils studying accounting and other business related subjects.

Over 500 research studies back the conclusion that cooperative learning produces gains across all content areas, all grade levels, and among all types of students including special needs, high achieving, gifted, urban, rural, and all ethnic and racial groups. In terms of consistency of positive outcomes cooperative learning remains the strongest researched educational innovation ever with regard to producing achievement gains.
(Kagan, S., 1999)
Here is a list of arguments backing cooperative learning (Strengths):

-          Cooperative learning benefits all types of learning and all abilities of learners.

-          Given students’ views and ideas are accepted by peers, it helps increase their self esteem.

-          Interracial  friendship in a group work develops interracial and intercultural harmony.

-          Given pupils are working in group, communicating among pupils become easier and also helps in gaining communication skills.

-          Interpersonal skills are developed since pupils are to interact with each other.

-          Through cooperative learning, pupils learn discipline like waiting for their turn to talk and talk one at a time.

-          Defending the teams work is also defending the views of another person. Hence, cooperation develops empathy (Topping, K., 1988)

-          By listening to and accepting critics from team members, students get to learn more about themselves and may even improve.

-          Fosters students responsibility for learning.

-          Helps the teacher in keeping the students engaged in classroom work (Cohen. E., 1994).

-          Allows every pupil to participate in class as compared to volunteering where always the same pupils raise their hand and participate.

Weaknesses of Cooperative Learning

Despite its non exhaustive list of strengths, cooperative learning also has some weaknesses that hinder its application in many situations. However, some of these weaknesses may be overcome with proper planning and preparation.

-          Lack of proper instructions and guidance may lead to unsocial behaviours like all members talk at the same time, some members not participating, a member tries to dominate others and impose his views or even a member is ignored.

-          Lack of supervision may lead to the class making lots of noise and discussing unnecessary things rather than the topic to be learnt. Then cooperative learning becomes a waste of time.

-          A pupil who did his share of work honestly and would deserve a very good grade otherwise may be under graded for work not done by others in the group.

-          Bad experience working in a group may leave a bad impression about team work on pupils and this may affect negatively their working life later. They may not be likely to work well in teams.

-          Overusing cooperative learning may make pupils become dependent on each other and may impact negatively when they are required to work individually.

-          Consensus becomes difficult especially when it comes to matters that involve emotions

-          It is a time consuming strategy both for preparation and implementation. Therefore, the teacher may not have enough time to complete his syllabus.
List of references:
1.      Barry, K. and King, L., 2002. Beginning Teaching and Beyond. 3rd ed. Australia: Social Science Press.
2.      Cohen, E., 1994. Designing Group work: Developing for Heterogeneous Classroom. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.
3.      Kagan, S., 1999. Cooperative Learning: Seventeen Pros and Seventeen Cons plus Ten Tips for Success. Kagan Online Magazine
4. Topping, K., 1988. The Peer Tutoring Handbook: Promoting Cooperative Learning. London: Croom Helm.