Monday, March 25, 2013

INDIVIDUAL VERSUS CO-OPERATIVE LEARNING


INDIVIDUAL VERSUS CO-OPERATIVE LEARNING

Abstract
Co-operative learning is in lay man’s language referred to as group work. This is a method of study in which students are allowed to work as members of teams or groups so as to come up with collaborative responses to classroom tasks. Individual learning on the other hand, refers to the educational process in which every learner is expected to perform their educational tasks singly with guidance from their tutors where necessary. In the process of learning co-operatively, learners are expected to air their perspectives and mindsets as well as listen and respond to those of the other learners in their groups. Marcus (2009) asserts that the difference between co-operative learning and group work is evidenced in the manner in which the learners are located into groups, the division of responsibilities to each group member, the illumination of both personal and group responsibility and the set objectives that the academic task is expected to attain.
This essay is a classroom-based investigative analysis whose purpose is to disambiguate which learning practice is most effective in enhancing the learning of learners; whether the individual learning practice or learning in groups. After an introduction of the essay’s subject matter- individual versus co-operative learning- there will follow a critical literature review of writings and deliberations on the same topic from credible sources. This will be followed by a description of research investigations conducted in the classroom context and the outcome of the studies will be discussed to assess its implications for the contemporary educationists. At the end of the essay a summative conclusion of the main points will be drafted followed by a bibliography of the texts cited in the essay.

In the modern day there has occurred an increased interest in the accessibility of learners to quality education. Despite the fact that it is not an easy feat to identify and effectively apply dynamics of quality learning, scientific research over the years has ascertained that one of the most significant issues that educationists need to appreciate is the fact that there are many discrepancies that exist between learners and their ability to learn. Despite the fact that student learning differences emanate from a variety of factors, the educationist is vested with the responsibility of identifying and applying effective teach and learning mechanisms that will allow all different learners in a classroom to benefit from the education process. The science and mathematics subjects, for example, are very fundamental subjects in the life of learners in the contemporary day. Their significance is even more pronounced due to the fact that technology and scientific research, which requires proficiency in mathematics and scientific subjects, has been accorded more preeminence that it has for centuries.
 As a consequence, it is the responsibility of educationists to apply the best possible learning strategies to ensure that learners understand the subjects as accurately as possible so that they can portray the desirable outcomes, not only in their educational course work but also in the outside world after school. The students’ comprehension of these subjects is determined to a high degree by the teaching and learning procedures that are utilized by educationalists. The modern day educationalists are constantly assessing and reanalyzing their teaching methodologies so as to make sure that they are effective enough in the transmission of relevant knowledge to the learners, and in a manner that they can easily comprehend.
Despite the fact that learners may find it very complex to apply effective strategies when it comes to learning in groups, it is important for educationists to determine accurately which method of pedagogy has is the most beneficial in producing the required outcome from the learning process. In the determination of which learning practice is best suited to produce the required learning outcomes, two methods were used. In the first instance, half of the learners in a mathematics class were authorized to work singly in the accomplishment of their classroom tasks while the other half was authorized to engage in team or group discussions in the accomplishment of the same classroom task. After the exercise, the performances of the learners in subsequent test outcomes were investigated. The second investigation was conducted to ascertain whether or not there are any empirical differences in learning outcomes between the leaner who learn individually and those that utilize ability groups in the co-operative learning process.

According to Lavel (2009) co-operative learning refers to the procedures of learning in which learners are divided into small teams so that they can support each other in the collaborative accomplishment of classroom tasks rather that working singly and in competition. Despite the fact the in the modern educational sector co-operative learning has gained a lot of importance, many pedagogists are faced with the predicament of which the best learner grouping strategies are. Placement predictors in a mathematics class are very important. More often than not, ability grouping, especially in mathematics and science classes, has had very successful results, both for the learners and their educationists. Marcus (2009) asserts that the difference between co-operative learning and group work is evidenced in the manner in which the learners are located into groups, the division of responsibilities to each group member, the illumination of both personal and group responsibility and the set objectives that the academic task is expected to attain.
There are a variety of techniques that can be applied in the procedures of learner grouping in classroom learning. The learners can be placed in homogeneous or heterogeneous groups. According to Robinson (2009), the homogeneous groups are those in which students of the same learning capabilities are categorized together. This kind of grouping, also commonly referred to as ‘tracking’, has been in application in the educational facilities of the US for a very long time. The heterogeneous ability learning groups are more frequently applied than the homogeneous learning ability groups due to the fact that the latter is perceived as propagating divisions amongst the students as a consequence of their cognitive, societal and financial status.
Educationists are perceived as preferring homogeneous groups to the heterogeneous ones due to the fact that these groups allow for the tutors to assist the slow low ability learners which the high ability student proceed at their own speed.  Nevertheless, Bryson (2007) asserts that this technique of grouping learners does not benefit them much. The heterogeneous kind of grouping, on the other hand, is that in which the students of divergent learning abilities and aptitudes are grouped together. Critics of the homogenous learning ability groups argue that this kind of grouping is more detrimental than beneficial to the learning process since it encourages a culture of academic tracking in which the learners, specifically the low ability ones, feel marginalized and disgraced die to their inability to learn as fast or grasp academic concepts as easily. Singer (2007) asserts that in such instances, learners placed in the low ability groups feel as if they are branded as stupid and rather than work hard to improve their academic performance, they withdraw into self created cocoons and become uncooperative in terms of participation and involvement in classroom activities. On the other hand, the learners in the high ability learning groups may cultivate the vice of arrogance and superiority complex which cause them to look down upon their classmates in the low ability learning group.

According to Slavin (1995) there are a variety of benefits that learners stand to enjoy when they are allowed to study in co-operative groups rather than individually. There is empirical proof that the application of co-operative techniques in learning has a lot of benefits for the students of differing learning abilities. In addition to this, the ability groups in co-operative learning allow the low ability learners, who usually feel intimidated by the high ability learners in normal classroom situations, a forum in which they can learn at their own pace and participate fully in the learning process. While students may find some learning tasks very easy to comprehend and comfortably work them out on their own, the more complex classroom tasks in subjects such as literature, sciences and mathematics require that the learners be grouped into teams where they can learn from each other and share their divergent views and methodologies. As a matter of fact, Bryson (2007) asserts that it is not uncommon for learners to understand educational concepts better when they are explained to them by their peers rather than when described by their tutors in the classroom situation.
Robinson (2009) mentions another benefit of co-operative learning as being the role played by the motivational theory in ability groups. According to this theory, the ability learning groups are motivated by the desire to successfully accomplish group goals as well as the rewards and incentives expected in the event that one group outshines the other in the accomplishment of particular classroom tasks. Due to the fact that a group cannot perform exemplarily without the individual group members first being successful, co-operative learning is perceived as increasing the academic achievement, self confidence and esteem of the individual learners. As a corollary, educationists have the duty to motivate the learners by presenting them with both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards so as to elicit more creativity and enthusiasm towards learning from the students. In addition to this, for the group work or co-operative learning units to bear the desired results the educationists ought to design the classroom tasks in such a manner that they are suitable to the different learning abilities of the students; such classroom tasks should be neither too complex since they will demoralize the learners, nor too simple as the learners will lack the challenge they need to exert themselves into the achievement of educational objectives.
Singer (2009) asserts that the co-operative technique of learning is advantageous to the learners since it allows for the processes of developmental perspective as described by Vygotsky and Piaget. This theory implies that, provided that the learners in a learning group are in a similar or closely related level of proximal development, the student get more from the educational process as a result of engaging in interactive learning processes with each other.
  On the other hand, there are scholars and academicians who feel that it is irrelevant whether the learners are left to learn individually or grouped into co-operative learning units. In fact, the co-operative method of learning is perceived as having some inherent disadvantages for the learners. Bryson (2007) claims that studies conducted over the years depict very little if any, improvements in the quality of education and attainment of set educational objectives by the learners whether they are grouped into heterogeneous of homogeneous groups. On the contrary, rather than attribute positive changes to student grouping, any transformation in learner educational accomplishments and depiction of the desired educational outcome is perceived as being dependent on the alterations that are conducted on educational curriculum and teaching methodologies. There are several hindrances that are quoted as being impediments to the successfully application of co-operative learning techniques. Firstly, the co-operative technique of learning requires for the students in a group to air their views, mindsets and perspectives on the academic task at hand as well as listen and respond to those of the other students in the group. This process is perceived as consuming a lot of learning time which could have been used to move forward with the subject course outline. Since the process necessitates for an active oral and auditory engagement by all the group members, learners who are introverted or soft spoken may be disadvantaged and their contributions overlooked.
According to Robinson (2009), the another detractor in the application of co-operative learning techniques is the fact that this form of learning, as evidenced in the student grouping according to ability, seems to illuminate and accentuate the existent social inequalities amongst the different learners; as a consequence, ranks are formed amongst the learners and this may cause the cultivation of superiority complexes among the high achievers and inferiority complexes in the low achiever; this tends to be more pronounced when the co-operative learning techniques are applied by the utilization of homogeneous learner groups. In addition to this, if not duly supervised the learners working in co-operative groups may lose focus and deviate from the learning objectives of the groups by engaging in social or non-curricular deliberations instead of the relevant educational content.
Educationists can easily resolve this detractor by conducting constant assessments of the groups and readjusting the group members. The learners who portray praiseworthy improvements can be moved to groups of higher learning abilities. Learners of high abilities who do not take the groups seriously or those that do not exert their full potential in the performance of classroom tasks in the group may be transferred to groups with a higher number of low ability learners. Despite the fact that co-operative learning has been affirmed as being very time consuming when compared to individual learning, students involved in such learning processes tend to gain more from the educational process than the learners who study individually.
In the determination of which learning practice was the most effective in producing the desired learning outcomes, Bryson (2007) conducted a study in which half of the learners in a mathematics class were authorized to conduct their classroom tasks individually while the other half was allowed to consult with each other and perform the tasks as a group. In order to ascertain whether indeed there were differences in the conceptualization of educational matter depending on whether a learner accomplished classroom tasks individually or as a member of a group, it was necessary to compare the performance of the two groups of learners through a thorough analysis of their personal or group scores in both the pre and pro-tests. Despite the fact that the result of this first study did not reveal any significant differences between the academic accomplishments of the students working individually or those working in groups, Bryson (2007) concluded that the learners who worked solo were more predisposed to acquire better grades than those in a group; this is because students working individually took time to describe and explain their answers and formulae in greater detail than the learners in the groups.
According to Robinson (2009), another study was conducted to investigate the differences in student academic achievement between learners who learnt individually and those that were involved in co-operative learning processes. The study was conducted fifty one times on post-secondary first graders in mathematics and reading classes. In the study, both the homogeneous and heterogeneous groups were investigated. The results of the research indicated that the learners involved in co-operative learning processes tend to benefit more from the educational opportunities than did the learners who learnt individually; another discovery made by this research was that the students of low learning abilities benefitted more from co-operative learning than did the average and high academic performers.
The implications of these research findings necessitate that in their application of co-operative learning techniques, whether in homo or heterogeneous learning groups, educationists need to enhance the effectiveness of the process by adjusting the teaching and learning regulations so that they are adaptive to the diverse educational needs of the students. As stated by Bryson (2007), future research on the efficacy of co-operative learning as contrasted with individual learning in the improvement of scholarly performance ought to include the contribution of other factors of co-operative learning such as the associations between students in a group, the expected rewards on accomplishment of group task as well as different academic abilities of the students in any learning group.
In conclusion, the modern times have witnessed an increased interest in the accessibility of learners to quality education. Despite the fact that it is not an easy feat to identify and effectively apply dynamics of quality learning, scientific research over the years has ascertained that one of the most significant issues that educationists need to appreciate is the fact that there are many discrepancies that exist between learners and their ability to learn. There are indeed a variety of benefits that have been illuminated as emanating from the educational process of co-operative learning rather than individual learning. The ability groups in co-operative learning processes bring together a variety of dynamics that are very important in the learning process. These include the encouragement of participation by all students in the learning activities due to the fact that learning groups are less intimidating than whole class scenarios; the utilization suitable teaching and learning methodologies by educationists, according to the levels of the students, so as to make sure that all learners benefit as much as possible from the learning process and the presentation of a forum in which the associations between teachers and their students are amplified.
As opposed to individual learning, co-operative learning processes encourage a positive interdependence between the learners, face to face interactions as well as an opportunity for the students to practice their interpersonal skills. These are very invaluable features in any learning environment and they enhance the chances of learners benefiting from the educational opportunities that they are presented with.

Bibliography
Bryson, E. J. (2007): ‘Effectiveness of Working Individually Versus Cooperative Groups:
A Classroom-Based Research Project’ Masters in Science Education Program, University of Pennsylvania
Lavelle, D. (2009): ‘Heterogeneous and Homogeneous Grouping: The Debate Continues’
Marcus, R. (2009): ‘Observations on Cooperative-Learning Group Assignments’ Department of
Philosophy, Hamilton College
Robinson, J. P. (2009): ‘Essays on the Effectiveness of Policies and Practices for Reducing
Cognitive Gaps between Linguistic Groups and Socioeconomic Groups’ ProQuest
Schullery, N. M. and Stephen E. S. (2006): ‘Are Heterogeneous or Homogeneous Groups More
Beneficial to Students?’ Journal of Management Education 30.4: 542-556
Singer, A.J. (2009): ‘Social Studies for Secondary Schools’ (3rd Ed) New York, NY: 
Routledge Group
Slavin, R.E. (1995): ‘Research on Cooperative Learning And Achievement: What We Know,
What We Need To Know’ Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk