CL1 - More Information: Does Collaborative Learning Work?




Does collaborative learning work?

Studies indicate that positive results in student achievement are observed in college level courses (Johnson, et al., 1998; Johnson, et al., 1991). In science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) college-level courses' fewer studies have been performed. The most recent data for the impact of small-group learning strategies in SMET college-level courses comes from the meta-analysis by Springer (Springer, et al., 1998) which showed a "significant and positive" effect on three factors: achievement, persistence, and attitudes. An effect size of 0.51 in student achievement was found in this study, and would translate in a student's achievement on a standardized test going from the 50th to 70th percentile. An effect size of 0.46 was seen with student's persistence. This would result in a reduction in attrition from SMET courses and departments of 22% as compared to students not exposed to a collaborative learning environment. Finally, an effect size of 0.55 was observed in student attitudes towards the subject matter and their feelings about their competence in the discipline as compared to the average effect of 0.28.

This question has been investigated to a far greater extent in the K-12 system. Research has shown improvements in student achievement, race relations, acceptance of academically handicapped students, and self-esteem (Slavin, 1995) occur with the appropriate use of cooperative learning.

The positive impact on student achievement is tied to the strategy of both establishing group goals and requiring individual accountability. In this way, the group members are given incentive and motivation to help one other through the task at hand. Relations between different ethnic groups are also improved when individuals from diverse backgrounds are brought together in a respectful cooperative manner to discuss specific and non-trivial concepts. To contrast this, the traditional alternative to small-group learning is a competitive relationship that typically sets one student against another as they compete to achieve academic success. The effort to mainstream academically handicapped special students also finds positive effects with cooperative learning. With these teaching methods, academically handicapped special students are more integrated and socially accepted by their peers as revealed by sociometric measures. Finally, the research on students' self-esteem is somewhat mixed: most studies show a positive effect on either academic, social, or general self-esteem though some studies revealed no resulting change in self-esteem (Slavin, 1995; Cooper, et al., 1990).

Cooper, J., Prescott, S., Cook, L., Smith, L., Mueck, R., and Cuseo, J. (1990). Cooperative learning and college instruction: Effective use of student learning teams. California State University Foundation, Long Beach, CA.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. A. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Slavin, R. E. (1995). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., and Donovan, S. (1998). "Effects of cooperative learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis." (Research Monograph No. 11). Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, National Institute for Science Education, Review of Educational Research, in press.

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