Combining Adaptive and Cooperative Learning Strategies to Deal With Heterogeneity in Large Groups

Combining Adaptive and Cooperative Learning Strategies to Deal With Heterogeneity in Large Groups

Luis Fernández-GutiérrezdelÁlamo (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain), Luis F. Mazadiego (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain), David Bolonio (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain), Fernando Barrio-Parra (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain) and Miguel Izquierdo-Díaz (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8142-0.ch009


In undergraduate university degrees, students start their first year with a high level of heterogeneity in terms of acquired curricular competences. Therefore, the teaching given in these courses must face the challenge of turning this heterogeneity, in principle counterproductive, into an added value that helps students to face the subjects with expectations of success. Consequently, an innovative approach in the teaching of the first degree courses is needed, moving towards adaptive and personalized learning based on the use of new technologies, facilitating the overcoming of learned competences regardless of the starting level of the student. Other works focus on adaptive learning to achieve the homogeneity in groups of students before the beginning of the group lessons. Unlike this “classical” approach, this chapter is based on maintaining the heterogeneity of knowledge and using it as a driving force to learn through interactions among group members.
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Brief Historical Outline Of Cooperative Learning

In the second half of the twentieth century, the United States witnesses a formerly unknown reality. The classrooms, especially in the middle school levels, become high heterogeneity groups of students, mainly caused by a cultural diversity and different types of families. This, obviously, can influence the objectives that each student seeks during their school years. Moreover, in those years, children and adolescents spend more and more time alone, in front of the television, since their parents spend many hours working outside their home. On top of that, the strongly individualistic and competitive character of American society, with its growing ethnic, religious and cultural differences, causes a gap that makes educational programs difficult to structure.

As a result of this situation, there are many researchers who begin to study and develop adaptive didactic techniques. In most of the investigations, they propose learning tools coherent with this heterogeneity, which result in interactive and collaborative processes that interpret heterogeneity not as a problem but as an opportunity to achieve greater cooperation among the participants. In a way, it can be said that this was the beginning of Collaborative Learning as it is understood now, although, sometime before there were already voices that were in favor of proposals that followed this way of educating. Indeed, at the end of the nineteenth century, the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952) fiercely criticized his country's education system, considering that the use of competence in education fosters the growth of inequalities among students according to their social and economic backgrounds. He promotes a change that transforms this elitist, fragmented and unsupportive school into another one of a democratic, egalitarian and collaborative nature. He founds the Experimental School at the University of Chicago and continues with his research in this area. However, the arrival of World War I and the Great Depression of 1934 provoke a paradigm shift that benefits, again, individualism and competition, not only among individuals but also between schools and universities. Even though during the following years some contributions stand out (Johnson and F. Johnson, 1979, Sharan and Sharan, 1976, Aronson et al., 1978, Deutsch, 1949, Johnson and R. Johnson, 1994), it will be in the seventies when the methodological proposals related to Cooperative Learning actually take off. Nowadays, the developed methodology has been applied to deal both with the heterogeneity produced by the knowledge/experience (i.e. Sein-Echaluce et al., 2017)) and the cultural differences between the studentship (Slavin, 1980).

In fact, the differences between the levels of competence can be important among the students of the same academic course. There are many variables, some of them difficult to control, like the level of learning in previous courses, the cultural or social identification of each student, etc. To this day, it is commonly accepted that heterogeneous groups are valuable (Cen et al., 2016) but require greater attention since internal differences, those existing among its members, can weaken the identification of the group, and this is mostly more critical in large groups (Cummings et al., 2013). Most of the research carried out on this problem coincides in that the differences (of knowledge, skills, competencies) among the members of each group can contribute to an increase of the creativity, effort and commitment of the group only if the members of the group work on behalf of the group and not that of each one of them (Ancona and Caldwell, 1992; Van Kleed and De Dreu, 2007)

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