An instructional environment that utilizes the power of groups to reach specific learning objectives is called cooperative learning (CL). A unique feature of this type of educational structure is its group dynamic that consists of members of varying levels of skill and ability. CL offers its participants a realistic learning experience because the classroom environment is designed to mimic a community where members work together to reach societal goals. Nearly all members of society unconsciously and informally participate in this type of interactive learning on an ongoing basis. Besides preparing students for life long learning in the real world, here are some other key reasons why some teachers regularly employ CL techniques in their classrooms.
Early Leadership Development
It is a fact of academic life that some students possess more knowledge, skills or abilities in certain subjects than others. Developing teaching methods to handle these types of differences has been a recurring activity for many years. For example, some schools schedule separate gifted and talented classes or offer numerous advanced placement courses that eventually remove them from the regular classrooms with their peers. Teachers who use the cooperative learning structure in their classrooms leverage the differences of their students for the benefit of all. Obviously students who are not as knowledgeable or skilled can learn from high achieving members of the group. However, the more advanced students can also hone leadership skills as they help others to learn by explaining complex topics in simpler terms. Opportunities to develop leadership skills are often missed by the high achieving group when they become focused on competing with each other for academic standing. These leadership skills will serve them well in careers within industry or as future teachers.
Promotes Classroom Engagement
When lessons are planned appropriately for a CL classroom, teachers have the chance to spark students’ imaginations and inspire new ideas while building academic competencies. The CL environment encourages the contributions of all members since the group consists of students from a variety of backgrounds. The classroom takes on a distinct social aspect in the CL learning environment, and student ideas are often built on the contributions of their peers. Sometimes students, as well as their teachers, learn the value and intelligence of students who may not appear particularly scholarly when judged by grade point average alone. Teachers structure CL classrooms and act as mediators so that the learning atmosphere remains inviting and safe for all students to participate in achieving the group’s academic goals.
Encourages Critical Thinking
When people with similar backgrounds and expertise participate in groups, predictable ideas are usually forthcoming. However, heterogeneous groups whose members are committed to the cooperative model of learning have opportunities to hear different points of view that are often needed to achieve learning objectives. Nearly all ideas and contributions from students become useful in the CL model because they prompt students to rationally analyze issues from other perspectives. This is a necessary skill for students who will eventually work on interdisciplinary project teams during their professional careers.
Educators who are skilled facilitators can structure courses in which their students effectively teach each other desired academic lessons through lively classroom discussion. Those teachers realize that they lessen their own burden and make the educational process fun by using cooperative learning instructional methods.