By Dr. Geetika Saluja
Image Attribute: An Indian classroom in Santhome, Chennai, India
Source: DFID-UK, Flickr
"Two heads are better than one"
An often-heard query about co-operative learning is the following: “But, if I succeeded in a predominantly competitive or individualistic learning environment, why should I change my instructional practice to include co-operative learning strategies?” However, the National Science Education Standards  emphasize that access to a rigorous science education must be available for all students, not just those who gravitate to the field or consider themselves “science types.” As such, all teachers of science K–12, college, and university need to reflect on the learning situations they make available to their students and increase the variety of instructional strategies that they use, with the goal of diversifying instruction and reaching all students. Science is fundamentally a social enterprise, and scientific knowledge advances through collaboration and in the context of a social system with well-developed norms. Individual scientists may do much of their work independently or they may collaborate closely with colleagues. Thus, new ideas can be the product of one mind or many working together.
However, the theories, models, instruments, and methods for collecting and displaying data, as well as the norms for building arguments from evidence, are developed collectively in a vast network of scientists working together over extended periods. As they carry out their research, scientists talk frequently with their colleagues, both formally and informally. They exchange emails, engage in discussions at conferences, share research techniques and analytical procedures, and present and respond to ideas via publication in journals and books. In short, scientists constitute a community whose members work together to build a body of evidence and devise and test theories. In addition, this community and its culture exist in the larger social and economic context of their place and time and are influenced by events, needs, and norms from outside science, as well as by the interests and desires of scientists.
Studies from the research literature suggest that co-operative learning in its many forms has a variety of positive and measurable outcomes for students at a variety of cognitive levels and in a variety of disciplines. Cooperative learning is one of the best studied pedagogical strategies in the history of education research, with over 1,000 research studies on the topic dating as far back as 1898 (Johnson et al., 2000 ; CLC, 2003 ).There are so many studies, in fact, that the most accessible point of entry into the literature is meta-analyses of large numbers of studies. Of primary interest, cooperative learning models have been demonstrated to have a markedly positive impact on student achievement (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Springer et al., 1999).
In a paper available on the CLC website and presented in 2000, Johnson and Johnson conducted a meta-analysis of only that literature that specifically analyzed the impact of co-operative learning on student achievement. In their estimate, students in cooperative learning situations score, on average across many studies, almost two-thirds of a standard deviation higher than their peers in competitive or individualistic learning situations (Johnson et al., 2000 ).More specific to college and university instruction, a meta-analysis of studies of small-group learning in undergraduate science, math, engineering, and technology courses documented clear improvements in academic achievement, attitudes toward learning, and persistence in coursework for these students compared with students who experienced more traditional teaching methods (Springer et al., 1999 ). The authors of the analysis noted that the “reported effects are relatively large in research on educational innovation,” and that the size of the effect across studies would imply that small-group learning would “move a student from the 50th percentile to the 70th on a standardized test,” and “reduce attrition from courses and programs by 22%” (Springer et al., 1999, p. 915). In addition to these benefits, cooperative learning has been associated with improved attitudes toward subject matter, increased interest in schooling, expanded student–faculty interaction, improved classroom behavior and climate, and the development of life-long learning skills (CLC, 2003, Johnson, 1989 ).When used, research has shown that it helps to improve academic achievement, behavior, attendance, self-confidence, and motivation. It will also help with the developing and be using of critical thinking skills and teamwork; the promoting of positive relations among different ethnic groups; the implementing of peer coaching; and the establishing of environments where academic accomplishments are valued.
Cooperative Learning has several benefits for the students involved on several different levels.
- Higher achievement.
- Committed relationships
- Greater self-esteem for the students involved
- Involves students actively in the learning process
- Promotes critical thinking skills
- Models appropriate problem-solving techniques
- Motivates students in specific curriculums
- Improves classroom achievement
- Develops a social support system for students
- Builds diversity understanding among all
- Establishes a positive atmosphere for co-operation
- Develops learning communities.
- Increases student's self-esteem
- Reduces student anxiety
- Develops positive attitudes towards curriculum and teacher
- Utilizes a variety of assessment techniques and procedures
- Provides a basis for alternative forms
- Provides instantaneous feedback for students and teachers.
Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques promote student learning and academic achievement, increases student retention, enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience, help students develop skills in oral communication, develop students' social skills, promote student self-esteem and help to promote positive race relations.
Considering these above-mentioned benefits it is appropriate to implement Cooperative Learnings principles in curriculum transaction in Indian classrooms. The underlying premise is founded in constructivist epistemology. The process itself requires knowledge to be discovered by students and transformed into concepts to which the students can relate. The knowledge is then reconstructed and expanded through new learning experiences. Eventually, the learning takes place through dialog among students in a cooperative social setting in a constructive way.
About the Author:
Dr. Geetika Saluja is a distinguished academic consultant with Ph.D. in Education, and Cooperative Learning from Calorx Teachers' University and currently working as Head, Centre For Excellence at Varmora Granito Pvt Ltd.
 National Research Council, National Science Education Standards, National Academy Press; Washington, DC: 1996. Pg 10-27 http://cires.colorado.edu/education/outreach/rescipe/collection/inquirystandards.html
 Roger T.Johnson, and David. W. Johnson, Edythe Johnson Holubec, Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. 4th ed. Interaction Book Company; Edina, MN: 1993
 Co-operativeLearning Center 2003. University of Minnesota website www.co-operation.org
 D. Johnson, R. Johnson, Cooperation, and competition: Theory and research, Interaction Book Company; Edina, MN: 1989
 L. Springer, M.E. Stanne, Donovan S. Measuring the success of small-group learning in college-level SMET teaching: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 1999;69:21–51
 Roger T.Johnson, and David. W. Johnson, M.E. Stanne, Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta-Analysis. 2000. Co-operative Learning Center website