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Dr. Spencer Kagan

Dr. Spencer Kagan's Interview for Humana Editorial, Brazil

12. Your work promotes cooperative behavior. But we still live in a very competitive society. How is it possible to balance these skills to form individuals able to compete in today's professional world?

I refer to my book on cooperative learning, Kagan Cooperative Learning that addresses this question:

Isn't it wrong to teach using cooperative learning when we must prepare students for a competitive world?
If we were advocating exclusive use of cooperative learning, we would leave students very ill prepared. Students need to know how to work independently, and they need to know how to compete. We don't, however, advocate cooperative learning as the only way to teach. We feel cooperative learning should be a big part of the instructional diet, not the whole diet. What we are doing with structures is making it easy to include cooperative learning.

Why is it important to include cooperative learning? Students in cooperative learning classrooms outperform those in individualistic and competitive classrooms. Including cooperative learning is preparation for the real world: Three out of four new jobs include working on a team at least part of the time. In the United States, the two largest studies of employability skills, one by the American Society of Training and Development20 and one by the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Sills (SCANS)21, both emphasize the importance of group effectiveness skills (teamwork skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills). For example, the SCANS report concluded:

"The emphasis on teamwork in more and more workplaces means that instructional approaches must also emphasize learning collaboratively not just individually. For all types and levels of schooling and training, the field's  emerging research findings challenge what we teach and how we teach it." 22

We live in an interdependent world in which, somewhat paradoxically, the ability to compete depends on the ability to cooperate. Take a look at today's computer.

In different parts of the world, teams coordinate their efforts with other teams in their own plant to coordinate their efforts with teams in plants across the globe. As we move increasingly into a high-tech global economy, the workplace becomes more complex. No one working alone can compete. The ability to compete depends on the ability to cooperate—to communicate with others, coordinate efforts, resolve conflicts, and create a common vision. If students work only alone and/or only in competition with others, they will not acquire the cooperative skills that will allow them to participate well in the workplace of tomorrow. The traditional classroom in which sharing is defined as cheating is out of sync with the workplace our students will enter.

Employability surveys indicate employers seek one set of skills above all others: The ability to communicate well with and work well with others.23 See Chapter 2: Why Do We Need Cooperative Learning? Where will students get those skills if they do not regularly work with others?


20 Carnevale, A., L. Gainer & A. Meltzer. Workplace Basics: The Essential Skills Employers Want. San Francisico, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

21 Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991.

22 Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991.

23 National Association of Colleges and Employers. Job Outlook 2007: Employers Rate the Importance of Specific Qualities and Skills. www.jobweb.com

24 Friedman, T. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century. London, England: Allen Lane, 2005.