The benefits of cooperative learning

If you know anything about me, you will know that I am somewhat of an experimenter with respect to instructional design. This is because I learn best through trial and error.  An aspect in training that has always got me thinking is the use of groups in class. In fact I have been so challenged by this aspect that I registered my Masters’ Degree in the field of Cooperative Learning, which is a fancy name for group learning.

Think about the classes you have attended in your life and the nature of the group activities. How productive were those activities? Did everyone in the group contribute or did you have to deal with loafers? How much learning can we actually get from reading notes in a manual and regurgitating (presenting) them  to the class or drawing colourful flipcharts? And there is the million dollar question- how does one assess learners in a group? We obviously cannot assess individuals on work output not directly linked to them.

A structured group activity that answers most of the above questions, is a jigsaw activity. It is one example of a well- researched and structured approach to maximising learning and assessment in groups. The jigsaw in particular is great for developing knowledge, communication skills and team work. I have experimented with this activity and discovered how effective it is for teaching knowledge and understanding of processes (operators in a diamond processing plant).

My latest epiphany (aha moment) leading in fact to the writing of this article, is how useful the jigsaw activity would be for product (sales) training purposes. This activity is going to be efficient in that a number of products can be learned almost in the same time taken to learn one product. Assessment of learners (their level of product knowledge) is intimately linked to the way in which the group works. If you are training sales people, then the assessment of their communication skills is a direct and valuable benefit.

I cannot help admiring the clever people who have gone before us and created through research these sensible and effective learning methods.

If you are training people but your business is not being impacted, you should be asking what you can do differently. Training has to move beyond “bums on seats”.

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By David Loubser, R&D Manager


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