Limitations / Problems with Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning has many limitations that could cause the process to be more complicated than first perceived. Sharan (2010) describes the constant evolution of cooperative learning as a threat. Because cooperative learning is constantly changing, there is a possibility that teachers may become confused and lack complete understanding of the method. The fact that cooperative learning is such a dynamic practice means that it can not be used effectively in many situations. Also teachers can get into the habit of relying on cooperative learning as a way to keep students busy. While cooperative learning will consume time, the most effective application of cooperative learning hinges on an active instructor. Teachers implementing cooperative learning may also be challenged with resistance and hostility from students who believe that they are being held back by their slower teammates or by students who are less confident and feel that they are being ignored or demeaned by their team.

Students often provide feedback in the form of evaluations or reviews on success of the teamwork experienced during cooperative learning experiences. Peer review and evaluations may not reflect true experiences due to perceived competition among peers. Students might feel pressured into submitting inaccurate evaluations due to bullying. To eliminate such concerns, confidential evaluation processes may help to increase evaluation strength.

Group hate
Group hate is defined as "a feeling of dread that arises when facing the possibility of having to work in a group. When students develop group hate their individual performance in the group suffers and in turn the group as a whole suffers. There are many factors that lead students to experience these feelings of group hate some of the more crucial elements include:

A past bad experience
Group fatigue (overuse of cooperative learning)
Simply liking to work alone

When students are given a choice to choose learning activities (group based or individual work) students often evaluate several factors that lead them to a chose if they would like to work in groups or not. The three most common factors listed are:

"how likely am I to get a good grade?"
"how difficult will the task be?"
"the amount of effort involved".

More often the students choose to do the work individually because they feel as if they can do a better job individually than they can as a group.

What factors lead to a student forming group hate? It is difficult to say A, B, and C cause group hate simply due to the fact that each group is unique and everyone is different. However, there are several concerns that lead to students developing group hate.

Concerns about the teachers' role
Concerns about the students' role
Concerns about fairness and use of resources.

Concerns about the teachers' role usually stem from lack of communication from the teacher as to what exactly is expected of the group. It is difficult for a teacher to strike the sweet spot of not being a helicopter teacher and remain involved in the project while also not being too "loosey goosey". While a good teacher may be able to strike the balance every time this is a difficult task and most teachers tend to lean one way or the other. This can cause confusion with the students. This is only amplified when the students are put into groups and asked to complete a project with little instructions on how to do so. The way a teacher chooses to structure a project can influence how a student perceives the project overall. Whether or not a student likes a teaching style or not can influence if they develop group hate.

The next concern that leads students to developing group hate is simply that students get sick of working with the same group members over and over again. Cooperative learning is becoming so common that students are beginning to develop group hate simply because they are doing so many group projects. Students express opinion such as "so many group projects with the same people", "we are all up in each others business". While the building of personal relationships can be a positive aspect of cooperative learning it can also be a negative if you are having to continually work with people who are constantly letting you down or being difficult to work with. Unfortunately, it is common to have group members that exhibit signs of loafing within the group.

Loafing is defined as "students who don't take responsibility for their own role, even if it is the smallest role in the group." Students expect that group based learning will be fair for everyone within the group. In order for cooperative learning to be fair the work load must be shared equally within the group. Many students fear that this will not take place. This leads to the students developing group hate.

"The fear that some members of the group will act as passengers or social loafers and derive a benefit (generally a good grade) from the group activity undermines the effectiveness of the group. Some students hoard their intellectual capital to make sure that no one unjustly benefits from it. Ironically, some of the students most indignant about "slackers" or "freeloaders" make immediate assumptions about their peers and insist from the outset that they will have to take care of everything in order to maintain control. There are many ways for a concern about equity to warp the function of a group. Therefore, to make groups more effective, the most important thing an instructor can do to defuse student resistance to cooperative learning is to focus attention on the issue of "fairness."

In order for students not to develop group hate the instructors must be very aware of this process and take steps to insure that the project is "fair". This can be a difficult task. It is often difficult to gage what students are loafing while the project is taking place unless, other students in the group bring the problem to the attention of the instructor.

Assessment of groups
It is a common practice to have the groups self assess after the project is complete. However, "Assessment can be the Achilles heel of cooperative learning" Students often will assess their group positively in hopes that they will in return be assessed the same way. This often leads to inaccurate assessments of the group. "For most instructors, one of the greatest pedagogical challenges for a group communication course is to help students realize that the benefits of cooperative learning outweigh the costs involved".

Group cohesion and conflict management
Another aspect of cooperative learning that leads to group members developing group hate is the fact that "groups are unable to achieve sufficient cohesion because they fail to manage conflict effectively". The students are not usually in a group long enough to develop good group cohesion and establish effective ways to resolve conflict. The problem is that most students have had a negative experience in groups and consequently are apprehensive to get into such a situation again. "One answer to this dilemma is to demonstrate how groups trump individuals in terms of problem solving". If instructors are able to effectively accomplish this it is a positive step towards eliminating group hate.

Group hate exists in almost all student groups. Whether it be because of past bad experiences, concerns about how the project will play out, worries about group members loafing, or not knowing how to effectively manage conflict that may arise within the group. However, group based learning is an important aspect of higher education and should continue to be used. More and more companies are turning towards team based models in order to become more efficient in the work place. By limiting student feelings of group hate this will lead to students having better group experiences and learning how to work better in groups.

Cooperative learning is becoming more and more popular within the American education system. It is almost uncommon not to have some cooperative learning elements within a collage class. However, it is not uncommon to hear students expressing negative opinions regarding cooperative learning. Why is this? Feichtner and Davis put it elegantly by stating, "entirely too many students are leaving the classroom experiencing only the frustrations of cooperative learning and not the numerous benefits possible through team based effort". One of the main flaws that we see with previous research is that the research is almost always done from the perspective of the instructor. This is giving us a flawed view of cooperative learning as the instructors are not the one who are participating in the cooperative learning.

"From the (often blind) viewpoint of instructors, we had always viewed cooperative learning as an added advantage for the students - an opportunity to receive additional support while working closely with their peers. We had never really considered what a disastrous experience some frustrated students must endure, or why some students reported only positive experiences from classes utilizing group learning techniques."

In order to better understand the phenomenon of cooperative learning it is crucial that it be looked at through the student's perspective. It is important to understand what makes cooperative learning successful for some students and unsuccessful for others.