Cooperative learning is characterized by positive interdependence, where students perceive that better performance by individuals produces better performance by the entire group (Johnson, et al., 2014). This type of group work is formally termed cooperative learning, and is defined as the instructional use of small groups to promote students working together to maximize their own and each other’s learning (Johnson, et al., 2008).In informal cooperative learning, small, temporary, ad-hoc groups of two to four students work together for brief periods in a class, typically up to one class period, to answer questions or respond to prompts posed by the instructor.
Lev Vygotsky extended this work by examining the relationship between cognitive processes and social activities, developing the sociocultural theory of development.
The sociocultural theory of development suggests that learning takes place when students solve problems beyond their current developmental level with the support of their instructor or their peers.
George Kuh and colleagues also conclude that cooperative group learning promotes student engagement and academic performance (Kuh et al., 2007).
Springer, Stanne, and Donovan (1999) confirmed these results in their meta-analysis of 39 studies in university STEM classrooms.
Assign group roles or give groups prompts to help them articulate effective ways for interaction.
The University of New South Wales provides a valuable set of tools to help groups establish good practices when first meeting. Explain the group’s task, including your goals for their academic achievement and social interaction. Explain how the task involves both positive interdependence and individual accountability, and how you will be assessing each. In addition to providing feedback on group and individual performance (link to preparation section above), it is also useful to provide a structure for groups to reflect on what worked well in their group and what could be improved. Graham Gibbs (1994) suggests using the checklists shown below. Whether the goal is to increase student understanding of content, to build particular transferable skills, or some combination of the two, instructors often turn to small group work to capitalize on the benefits of peer-to-peer instruction. Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Many instructors from disciplines across the university use group work to enhance their students’ learning.It can be formal or informal, but often involves specific instructor intervention to maximize student interaction and learning.It is infinitely adaptable, working in small and large classes and across disciplines, and can be one of the most effective teaching approaches available to college instructors.The site also provides some exercises for building group dynamics; these may be particularly valuable for groups that will be working on larger projects. Regularly observe group interactions and progress, either by circulating during group work, collecting in-process documents, or both.