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Cooperative Learning Structure: Catalyst for Effective Learning for Adult Learners in Higher Education

Abstract

In this research study, the impact of cooperative learning structures on adult education students engagement and learning outcomes were examined. The goals of the study are to (1) examine the impact of participation in cooperative learning structures on students learning outcomes, (2) examine the impact of participation in cooperative learning structures on students engagement, and (3) determine students attitude towards cooperative learning structures. The results from the descriptive and inferential statistics indicate that there were statistically significant differences in the learning outcomes of students that participated in the cooperative learning structures. The results from the qualitative analysis show that students who participated in the cooperative learning environment were actively engaged with peers and teacher.
Contemporary Issues In Education Research ± Fourth Quarter 2014 Volume 7, Number 4
Copyright by author(s); CC-BY 259 The Clute Institute
Cooperative Learning Structure:
Catalyst For Effective Learning
For Adult Learners In Higher Education
Comfort O. Okpala, North Carolina A & T State University, USA
Amon O. Okpala, Fayetteville State University, USA
ABSTRACT
In this research study, the impact of cooperative learning structures on adult education student’s
engagement and learning outcomes were examined. The goals of the study are to (1) examine the
impact of participation in cooperative learning structures on student’s learning outcomes, (2)
examine the impact of participation in cooperative learning structures on student’s engagement,
and (3) determine student’s attitude towards cooperative learning structures. The results from the
descriptive and inferential statistics indicate that there were statistically significant differences in
the learning outcomes of students that participated in the cooperative learning structures. The
results from the qualitative analysis show that students who participated in the cooperative
learning environment were actively engaged with peers and teacher.
Keywords: Cooperative Learning; Cooperative Teams; Learning Teams; Research Teams
INTRODUCTION
here is a growing concern regarding the quality of students admitted to most graduate programs
(Cabrera, Nora, Crissman, Terenzini, Bernal, & Pascarella, 2002). The author further concluded that
most graduate students complete their studies with limited skills and abilities that can be attributed to
their graduate preparation. Hart (2002) emphasized that the poor quality of today’s graduate students can be
attributed to the poor undergraduate preparation. Given these research findings, it is necessary to implement
strategies that will improve the quality of learning that occurs at the graduate level. Cooperative learning is a
strategy that has been used in K-12 schools and is now being applied in higher education. Literature is replete on the
impact of cooperative learning in K-12 arena but, research is limited on the use of cooperative learning in graduate
adult education program (Brooks & Khandker, 2002; Bruffee, 1995; Slavin, 1995). According to Slavin (1995),
despite limited research on cooperative learning at the collegiate level, there is evidence of its positive effects on
learning at the K-12 setting. Dansereau (1983) concluded in his study of over 300 college students that cooperative
learning arrangements were consistently more effective than individual learning strategy for promoting retention of
course materials. Frierson (1986) found that black nursing students scored higher on a state based board
examination when students were instructed to engage in cooperative learning and studying relative to a comparable
group.
Johnson and Johnson (2000) defined cooperative learning as an instructional use of small groups where
students work together to maximize their learning. The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of
participation in cooperative learning structures on African-American adult education student’s learning outcomes
and engagement. The following research questions guide the focus of the study:
1. What is the impact of cooperative learning structures on graduate students’ learning outcomes?
2. What is the impact of cooperative learning structures graduate students’ engagement?
3. What are graduate students’ attitudes towards cooperative learning structures?
T
Contemporary Issues In Education Research ± Fourth Quarter 2014 Volume 7, Number 4
Copyright by author(s); CC-BY 260 The Clute Institute
THEORETHICAL FRAMEWORK
The study relied on several core values deemed essential for the development of constructivist and learner-
centered instructional environment designed to produce quality graduates (Kuh, Gruce, & Shoup, 2008). These core
values such as the need for instructionally focused classroom leaders that promote quality teaching and learning, the
need for classroom leaders with clear articulation of learning objectives with constructive feedback mechanisms, the
need for students to actively engage in peer and teacher interactions, and the need for a classroom environment with
collaborative relationships among stakeholders. These values are also part of student engagement constructs (Zhao
& Kuh, 2004). Student engagement is an indicator for successful classroom instruction as well as a value outcome
for school reform (Chapman, 2003). Cooperative learning is a teaching/learning strategy that strives to create a new
type of learning environment. The theoretical framework supporting cooperative learning includes social learning
theory, cognitive development theory, and behavioral theory. The social learning theory is grounded in the work of
Bandura which begins with the premise that social interaction is essential for human survival. In the learning
context, social interdependence refers to students’ ability to achieve, adjust psychologically, show social
competence, and develop positive relationships. Specifically, positive interdependence, or cooperation, must be
structured in the class room (Johnson & Johnson, 2000).
Cognitive Developmental theory, another theory undergirding cooperative learning, is grounded in the
work of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky presents learning as a societal process and product, while the
Piagetian perspective suggests that sociocognitive conflict occurs when individuals work together, and this creates
cognitive disequilibrium, that triggers perspective-taking ability and reasoning. Finally, Behavioral Learning theory
presupposes that cooperative effort is fueled by intrinsic motivation to earn group rewards (Johnson & Johnson,
2000).
Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning
There are five essential elements necessary for successful implementation of cooperative learning (Figure
1) according to Johnson and Johnson (2000). These elements include positive interdependence, individual
accountability, face-to-face promotive interaction, small group social skills, and group processing (Johnson,
Johnson, & Smith, 2007). According to the authors, positive interdependence which is from social interdependence
theory views cooperation as a positive link for individuals to accomplish a mutual goal through division of labor,
roles, and by making sure that each student’s grade depends on the performance of the entire group. Individual
accountability is essentially the knowledge that not only will the group’s product be evaluated, individual
contributions will also be measured in determining the final grade for each student. The basic tenet of this element is
that while students learn together, they perform alone to ensure that no one rides on the work of others. The need for
face to face promotive interaction among members of the group is very important. Although some of the groups’
work may be done on an individual basis, most of the tasks are performed through an interactive process where
group members provide feedback, challenge one another, teach each other based on their expert knowledge, and
encourage their teammates. Students must use appropriate collaborative skills that are positively reinforced by the
instructor to allow group members to interact in meaningful and productive way. Both in-class time as well as
outside class time should be provided for students to develop and implement trust-building, leadership, decision
making, communication, and conflict management skills.
Group processing is basically a metacognitive awareness of the group’s goals and progress. It is crucial for
the facilitator of a cooperative learning classroom to establish classroom evaluation techniques for the group’s
functioning process and to use it to maximize members’ effectiveness. The group processing evaluation looks at
what work, what didn’t work, and changes that need to occur (Johnson & Johnson, 2000).
Contemporary Issues In Education Research ± Fourth Quarter 2014 Volume 7, Number 4
Copyright by author(s); CC-BY 261 The Clute Institute
Figure 1: Elements of Cooperative Learning
*Adapted from Johnson & Johnson, 2000
METHOD
Participants
The sampling frame for this concurrent mixed-method research design study consisted of forty-four adult
learners enrolled in two graduate research classes in the graduate adult education program at a doctoral granting
historically Black college in the southeastern United States. There were twenty-two students in the control group and
twenty-two students volunteered to participate on the experimental group. After receiving the Institutional Review
Board (IRB) approval to conduct the study, students were asked to sign the approved consent letter to participate in
the study. Only those students that voluntarily agreed and signed the consent form were selected for the study.
Equal number of students (22) enrolled in the two classes that were used in the study. The majority of the
participants were female for both groups (Control, 91.0%; Experimental, 64.0%) as illustrated on Table 1. About
81.8% of the control group members were full-time graduate students while 77.5% of the experimental group
members were full-time graduate students. The majority of the participants on both groups were over thirty years of
age and fully employed (See Table 1).
... In order to accommodate this transition, there is a need for an integrated cooperative teaching approach in higher education. Cooperative learning is a strategy that has been widely used in a K-12 school and maintains its relevance (Okpala & Okpala, 2014). There is a wealth of research that substantiates the positive impact of cooperative learning strategies on learning outcomes (Scager et al., 2016;Johnson et al., 2007), such as higher self-esteem, acquisition of collaborative skills, demonstration of task-related behaviors, engagement in the educational process, and so forth (Bennett et al., 1991). ...
... Recent research on the integration of cooperative learning into higher education also confirms the positive impact of cooperative learning on students' learning outcomes. For example, an empirical study by Okpala and Okpala (2014) contended that cooperative learning is 'a strong pedagogical strategy in the improvement of learning outcomes for adult learners in higher education' (p. 265). ...
... Scager et al. (2016) implemented cooperative learning in life sciences courses, seeking to increase the effectiveness of collaboration in these courses. Meanwhile, Okpala and Okpala (2014) examined the impact of participation in cooperative learning structures in African-American adult education learning outcomes and engagement. Furthermore, Zain et al. (2009) examined the influence of the cooperative learning approach on students' performance and attitude in an economics course. ...
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As a response to the demands of the 21st century, innovative strategies are encouraged to help students develop 21st-century skills. In Social Studies, cooperative learning (CL) has been one of the strategies used by teachers to answer the call for innovation. In line with this, this study aimed to explore the student's attitude towards CL in Social Studies. Following a convergent parallel-mixed method, the study concurrently gathered, analyzed, and interpreted quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data were collected using a descriptive-survey method that required 200 students from public and private school as respondents. Qualitative data, on the other hand, were gathered through face-to-face interviews among 20 selected students. Quantitative results showed that students both from public and private school possess positive attitude towards the use of CL in Social Studies. However, the qualitative data suggested that students seem to have reservations about the use of CL in the classroom instructions. Based on the findings of the study, teachers both from public and private schools are recommended to use this strategy, but to maximize the benefits of CL, teachers must be reminded that in essence CL is not only cooperation among students but cooperation between students and teachers. Teachers are recommended to design CL appropriately, act as a facilitator of learning in CL, and reflect and learn from the process itself for continuous improvement.
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