Elements of Cooperative Learning and Their Application to Distance Ed

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According to Wikipedia, the cooperative learning theory has been around since the 1930s and discussed by researchers from diverse fields such as philosophy and psychology. Cooperative learning involves strategic group practices and elements to aid critical thinking.  As an educator, I’m most familiar with Kagan’s (1985) approach to cooperative learning. Additionally, I learned about Palinscar and Brown’s reciprocal teaching method; their article on Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-fostering and Comprehension-monitoring Activities (1984) predates that of Kagan’s work.  Johnson and Johnson researched and wrote about cooperative learning activities in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I learned about their work in my doctoral coursework on instructional strategies.

Johnson and Johnson (1994) were the first to describe the following five essential elements of cooperative learning: positive interdepence, face-to-face (F2F) promotive action, individual & group accountability, social skills, and group processing.  The following lists their elements and how they can be implemented in online courses.

  1. Element of Cooperative Learning: Positive Interdependence

Course Design– A) Provide example of project team roles. B) Another layer to this is to then divide the content assignment into specific components and assign them to team members.

Resources–  I modified the list that Dr. Dempsey shared in our doctoral course on instructional strategies at the University of South Alabama: team leader, timekeeper, idea monitor, QA monitor, and Wild Card (for the extra item that varies according to the content or situation).

Difference from F2F Instruction: A) Not all students will be able to meet F2F on campus due to geographic distances. B) Not all students will see information (login) at the same time. Delays can cause emotional distress to team members and create psychological distance.

2. Element of Cooperative Learning: F2F Promotive Interaction

Course Design- Include synchronous sessions with live audiovisual possibilities.

Resources– Use virtual meeting spaces such as BigBlueButton, Skype, Google+ Hangout, & Second Life

Difference from F2F Instruction: A) Students can discuss items freely without being in earshot of the teacher or other teams. B) Students need technical skills to be able to participate online. C) Meetings can easily be recorded for review.

3. Element of Cooperative Learning: Individual & Group Accountability

Course Design– Create rubric for individual and group tasks explicitly described.  Ask student to complete a peer evaluation of team members according to their assigned components.

Resources- Teacher asks students to create this for greater understanding of the requirements.

Difference from F2F Instruction- No real difference except for no F2F lecture mode to explain rubric.

4. Element of Cooperative Learning: Social Skills

Course Design– Teachers model social skills with teacher talk.  They shape students’ behavior by providing praise when appropriate actions are taken.  They provide rubrics that describe the actions such as how many times to post in forums and to whom.  Students set up their own agreed upon ground rules.

Resources– Netiquette: There are several versions out there.  There’s even a multiple-choice test that scores a students’ netiquette knowledge automatically.

Difference from F2F Instruction– A) Etiquette rules differ. B) In OL, every student gets the opportunity to respond. C) For OL, there’s a larger chance of procrastination due to the “absence” of the traditional classroom routine, physical building, seeing friends in the hallway to remind you, etc.

5. Element of Cooperative Learning: Group Processing

Course Design– Ask students to create their own set of group rules and definitions. (This was another Dr. Dempsey idea.) Monitor group work by asking to be added to their collaborative project sites.

Resources– Use Web 2.0 tools like wiki, clog, and/or Google Drive to collaborate.

Difference from F2F Instruction- A) Must decide on which synchronous and Web 2.0 tools to use and create accounts. B) Meetings include the World Map for time and date. C) May be grouped with someone that you will never meet F2F (I’m unsure of the psychological ramifications but certain this plays a role in online behavior).

References

Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1994). Learning together and alone, cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning. Needham Heights, MA: Prentice-Hall.

Kagan, S. (1985). Cooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Resources for Teachers, Inc.

Palinscar, A.S., & Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities.  Cognition and Instruction, I(2), 117-175.