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The evidence behind Co-operative Learning

Co-operative approaches have been shown to benefit individuals in a number of different ways: achievement, relationships/social skills, psychological well-being and confidence/self-esteem.

Achievement and productivity

Johnson and Johnson report that “between 1898 and 1989 researchers conducted over 375 research studies with over 1700 findings on social interdependence and productivity and achievement.” A subsequent meta-analysis conducted by Johnson and Johnson found that “the average person co-operating performed at about 2/3 of a standard deviation above the average person learning within a competitive … or individualistic situation.”

Support for these findings can be found in the current drive in organisations, even commercial companies, to promote team working. This is recognition of the fact that people achieve more together than they do individually. Something that is particularly important in the very complex environment we all work in these days.

Johnson and Johnson also report research which shows that co-operation encourages individuals to persist more, to retain what they have learned, to use “higher-level reasoning” and to come up with more creative solutions. What’s more individuals are able to take away skills they have learned from the group and use them on their own. According to Johnson and Johnson, “both competitive and individualistic structures, by isolating individuals from each other, tend to depress achievement.”

Relationships and social skills

Another benefit of learning co-operatively is that it enhances our relationships with others. People who are required to co-operate, rather than compete, in their learning not only like each other better but are also more likely to offer personal and academic support. Research shows that this type of social support is also important for achievement and physical health. Co-operation also encourages social skills to develop. This is not only important for the modern workplace but also of fundamental importance within the family and community.

Psychological health and well-being

Johnson and Johnson report that four studies have directly measured the impact of social interdependence on psychological health. They report that the results showed that working co-operatively, and valuing this co-operation, are “highly correlated with psychological health”. They maintain that a whole number of positive indices of positive mental health such as ‘emotional maturity’, ‘strong personal identity’, ability to cope with stress and a positive, trusting attitude towards others was fostered through co-operation. Working in competition with others had some negative, and some positive correlations with positive psychological health. Individualistic working practices were, they claim “negatively related to a wide variety of indices of psychological health”.

Self-confidence and self-esteem

An important ingredient in psychological health is positive feelings about the self and self-confidence. Again these too have been positively related to co-operative practices. Johnson and Johnson report that over 80 studies since the 1950s have compared the varying impact of co-operative, competitive and individualistic experiences on self-esteem and they write:

Co-operative experiences promote higher self-esteem than do competitive or individualistic experiences. Our research demonstrated that co-operative experiences tend to be related to beliefs that one is intrinsically worthwhile, others see one in positive ways, one’s attributes compare favourably with those of one’s peers, and one is a competent, and successful person. … Competitive experiences tend to be related to conditional self-esteem based on whether one wins or loses. Individualistic experiences tend to be related to basic self-rejection.

Johnson and Johnson also report that evidence shows that co-operation fosters feelings of self-confidence.


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