The Effectiveness of Cooperative Learning in an Online Learning Environment Through a Comparison of Group and Individual Marks




Cooperative learning is a learning approach where students are placed into groups to work towards a common goal. Prominent learning theories state that students learn best when they construct their own knowledge in an active learning environment where they can socially interact and collaborate to reach a desired outcome.  Cooperative learning provides such a learning environment and has the benefit of creating an active learning community where students can develop transferable skills. Online learning has grown steadily over the past few years, but even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic where tertiary institutions’ only option was to continue with their academic programmes remotely through online learning platforms. With online learning becoming a prominent feature, calls are made to educators to examine teamwork and cooperation and how this can be facilitated in an online setting. In the online learning environment it is important to promote collaborative engagement to counteract feelings of isolation and encourage deep learning to occur. In the second accounting module of a fully online degree, students are exposed to a case study, with a group assignment as well as an individual assignment component. The aim of this study is to determine whether group work can be effective by comparing group marks to individual marks. The study further elicits the perceptions of the online students to determine their views regarding group work, the process that they followed to collaborate, as well as their perceptions regarding skills developed using the case study approach. A mixed-methods approach was followed, using the group and individual marks and combining those with the survey analysis and qualitative data analysis from a questionnaire. It was found that the average mark for the group assignment is higher than for the individual assignment and that the individual assignment shows a greater spread of marks. For male students who prefer to work within a group, their group mark is higher than their individual mark, showing that they did receive the benefit from working within a group. Students agreed that group work is a valuable skill that will be needed in their future careers and that the group work enabled them to learn from their group members. Working in a group requires a lot of time and effort, but students will elicit the strategies required to gain the necessary knowledge and solve the problem posed to them. Students mentioned several other skills that they perceived were developed through their exposure to the group work; skills such as communicating well, listening with intent, negotiating a point of view, researching alternatives and solving a problem were all enhanced through their participation in their groups. The results suggest that group work can be effectively achieved and managed in an online setting, albeit with special care around the logistical and technological challenges that can be experienced. Cooperative learning in the form of group work is not always welcomed by all students, but it will enable them to navigate their future careers where teamwork will be a prominent feature.



17 Dec 2021