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Cooperative learning: Are smaller groups better?

Cooperative learning is the process of breaking a classroom of students into small groups so they can discover a new concept together and help each other learn. Some teachers have always used this teaching concept, while some have started to use it while remote teaching, using tools like Zoom.

We explore the benefits further and how an instructor can successfully use cooperative learning within the physical and remote classroom.

What is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning refers to groups of students learning and working together on an assignment or project. During cooperative learning tasks, teachers structure collaborative interaction between students, which involves five essential elements.

  1. Positive interdependence: This is achieved when students recognize that success or failure will be as a group.
  2. Individual accountability: Students realize that they also need to perform their unique role while they are learning together.
  3. Face-to-face interaction: Discuss how to solve problems, debate concepts, connect present learning and past knowledge, and promote each other’s understanding.
  4. Small group social skills: Builds teamwork, leadership, decision-making, trust, communication and conflict management.
  5. Group processing: Allows each group to assess their work and improve together over time.

As thousands of students continue to move their education to an online setting, some educators are left scrambling to figure out new ways to keep students engaged and adapt their in-person lessons into remote lessons.

In many cases, teachers have turned to more passive teaching methods, which runs the risk of lessons being dull. To get students to get more excited about learning, we’ll need to implement more engaging ways of learning online. Small group learning can be an easily adaptable technique that can be introduced to your digital classroom quickly.

Benefits of smaller group learning

Sometimes, working in large groups can hinder students’ ability to learn and participate. In a smaller group environment, students can feel more relaxed and focused on the tasks at hand.

Below are a few benefits of incorporating smaller group learning in the classroom, both online and in-person:

1. Allows teachers to work more closely with individual students, offering flexible learning

Teaching in smaller groups allows teachers to become more individualized with each student, provides the teacher with insight into each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and helps locate any learning gaps between students.

It also helps teachers reinforce skills and reteach essential concepts and learning objectives while at the same time checking for understanding. This can help set the pace for each lesson plan, such as passing quickly over concepts that students already clearly understand.

2. More opportunities to provide students with feedback

Because smaller group settings allow teachers to monitor students more closely, there is more opportunity to provide frequent and more specific feedback. Usually, feedback is only limited to graded assignments or report cards, but small group learning can give instant feedback on ideas and concepts.

3. Helps to build confidence through collaboration

Some individual students might not be comfortable participating in a large class due to shyness or a lack of self-esteem. On the other hand, in a smaller, more informal atmosphere, many of these same students start to feel comfortable enough to join in on the conversation. This helps them build confidence and increase their social skills.

How can instructors incorporate cooperative learning?

Whether it be on Zoom or in-person, there are many different ways teachers can start to incorporate cooperative learning and small group learning into their classrooms:

Collaborate online by screen sharing

Online meeting tools have a handy feature called “share screen,” which allows both you and your students to share your screen’s content so you can use visuals while you learn. Using this tool can facilitate small group learning sessions and help collaboration on group projects like presentations.

Use polling features

Polling is another way to help check students’ opinions that can help you get feedback in real-time, and is found built into many web meeting platforms. You can post questions and gather responses using multiple choice, true or false, or have them comment on their level of agreement. This can help you check your students’ background knowledge, assess their opinions, choose the next topic and much more. It also helps to gather participation information.

Crowdmark helps guarantee smooth assignment submission and remote grading

There are many ways you can help foster cooperative learning using different online tools, including Crowdmark’s digital grading software and distance learning systems. Teachers rely on technology to work for them. This is why we offer educators a trial to see how easy it is to integrate and use our simple digital grading platform.

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