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How Effective Is Collaborative Learning?

written by: kanaitsa • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

Collaborative learning has been one of the most researched teaching models. This article focuses on the effectiveness of collaborative learning and looks at why it seems to be the most popular method of teaching for the 21st Century.

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    What Is Collaborative Learning?

    Collaborative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students team together to find answers to a problem that a teacher has given them. Problem solving could result in a meaningful project or simply brainstorming ideas. Exploring the effectiveness of collaborative learning on different aspects of the learning process is vital when determining its role in the classroom.

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    Effects on Behavior

    In the 21st Century, there is a lot of emphasis on global and community interdependence that requires high degrees of cooperation among members. Hence, many people believe collaboration to be an important goal for education. Studies show that collaborative learning encourages less competitive behavior and more cross-ethnic cooperation than from a whole-class teaching method of instruction. Collaborative learning encourages tolerance and wider acceptance of students with special needs and can promote better relationships among students of varying ethnicities.

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    Academic Achievement

    Students with lesser abilities learn more from working with students with greater abilities, though some argue that collaborative learning only benefits the weaker students. With that being said, the brighter students can also benefit from learning social and democratic skills. Furthermore, since students are constantly brainstorming among themselves, they are able to get contact feedback from their peers and from their teacher.

    Here are a few other ways that collaborative learning can impact academic achievement:

    • Collaborative learning encourages students to express their ideas. In doing so, collaborative learning also increases engagement among students and hence decreases boredom.
    • It increases student and faculty involvement hence a sense of safety that is important while dealing with special education students.
    • Collaborative learning increases student retention -- as the students brainstorm and use their cognitive skills it helps in retention.
    • Using collaborative learning in the classroom can promote a positive attitude toward the subject matter. Students are actively involved in the lesson and therefore there is a sense of ownership for the students and this encourages a positive attitude toward the subject matter.
    • Its use helps to develop oral communication skills. Students are able to listen to their peers and as they also speak are able to improve their communication skills.
    • Collaborative learning uses a team approach to problem solving while maintaining individual accountability because the teacher is free to call upon any member of the group to provide the answer.
    • The method encourages student responsibility for learning. Success of the group is highly dependent on the contributions of each member, hence students feel a high level of responsibility and are even afraid to let the team down.
    • Students are engaged in developing curriculum and class procedures. Students help in building the curriculum, in that the teacher will focus his/her goals on the outcomes the students give.
    • Students explore alternate solutions to problems in a safe environment. Students will feel safer expressing their views to their peers rather than the teacher.
    • Collaborative learning stimulates critical thinking and helps students clarify ideas through discussion and debate.
    • It enhances self time management skills. Students are required to manage time while they problem solve.
    • Encourages alternate student assessment techniques - students practice peer assessment.

    Most curriculum developers of cooperative learning argue that such learning is beneficial to students. It is assumed that students with lesser abilities learn more by working with those who have greater abilities and the latter benefit from the process of serving as tutors to their less-able peers. However, some argue that the brighter kids don't usually benefit from this type of learning. Research still continues on the matter and it is not conclusive, so teachers should always remain aware of possible unintended, negative consequences.

References

  • Arends, Richard I., Learning to Teach (7th Edition). McGraw Hill. (2006)