Learning environment demonstrates the overall structure of a learning goal (Johnson and Johnson, 1989). Cooperative Learning (CL) framework enables learners to work together as a group to accomplish a shared goal with a leader facilitating group interactions whereas Competitive Learning is where learners are working against each other to achieve a goal. Research reveals greater youth achievement, engagement and satisfaction through the cooperative learning framework. 4-H aims in developing Life Skills in the youth enabling them to become resilient young adults by targeting the four categories: Head, Heart, Hands, & Health.
The 4-H program offers non formal, supplemental educational experiences concentrated in developing life skills by expanding their STEM literacy, cultivating interest in community service, agriculture and natural sciences, promote healthy living and foster workforce readiness skills. Cooperative learning framework aligns perfectly with the structure of the 4-H program and the 4-H clubs and projects present an ideal opportunity to use cooperative learning strategies to help youth gain skills (McIntosh and Monroe, 2014). Working in groups allows the learner to develop wide social skills. Smaller group leads to better participation by engaging every learner. Like 4-H programs( Volunteer Run, Youth Led and Agent Supported), incorporation of the cooperative learning framework needs a strong facilitator to provide positive learning experiences for it’s learners while building their interpersonal skills.
Johnson and Johnson’s (1989) meta analysis indicated that cooperative method of instruction out-performed other methods by targeting following skill areas: attitude, critical thinking , reasoning (Head), empathy, social support, self-esteem, perspective taking, sharing (Heart), teamwork (Hands). This indicates that cooperative learning promotes positive youth development attributes. Though cooperative learning style is what we can use as a tool to achieve positive youth development, the roadblocks like proper facilitation, behavior management and evaluation prevent educators from implementing the strategy (Groseta and Myers, 2006).
As 4-H itself implements non formal educational experiences, informal cooperative learning can be pursued by our 4-H volunteers. This involves temporary, ad-hoc groups that last one activity or a meeting which are used to focus the participants attention on the subject to be learned. The facilitators role is to keep the students actively involved by providing them an excellent and structured learning experience. Following are the six steps guideline for facilitators which can address the above mentioned barriers.
A meticulous and intentional planning will lead to a successful cooperative learning environment that eases academic and social skill development in the participating youth.